UC Berkeley was awarded a five-year grant expected to total $47 million from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA) to incorporate advanced brain imaging into an Alzheimer’s Association-led study to explore whether lifestyle changes can protect memory in those at risk of developing dementia.
The expanded study will be the first large-scale investigation of how lifestyle interventions, which include exercise, diet, cognitive stimulation and health coaching, affect well-known biological markers of Alzheimer’s and dementia in the brain.
“A healthy diet and lifestyle are generally recognized as good for health, but this study is the first large randomized controlled trial to look at whether lifestyle changes actually influence Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes,” said Susan Landau, a research neuroscientist at Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, and principal investigator of the add-on study.
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The U.S. study to Protect brain health through lifestyle Intervention to Reduce risk (U.S. POINTER) is a two-year, $35 million Alzheimer’s Association-sponsored multisite clinical trial designed to test whether healthy diet, physical activity, and social and intellectual challenge can protect thinking and memory in older adults.
The new award of $47 million from the NIA, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, (NIH grant number R01AG062689) will support the U.S. POINTER Neuroimaging Ancillary Study, which will use advanced brain imaging techniques to assess how these lifestyle modifications can affect brain health.
As part of the ancillary study, researchers will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to monitor participants’ overall and regional brain shape, size and blood flow, and indicators of vascular disease that impacts the brain. It will also use positron emission tomography (PET) to track the presence of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain.
Build up of beta-amyloid and tau proteins occur in Alzheimer’s dementia and are linked to memory decline that occurs as the disease progresses. These biological markers are also now considered essential in large-scale, late-stage therapy trials in Alzheimer’s.
“The U.S. POINTER study gives us an opportunity to ask whether diet and exercise can actually change the brain, and ultimately the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” Landau said. “We also plan to study whether these markers, when measured at the beginning of the study, can predict who will respond best to the intervention, which could inform future precision-medicine approaches to healthcare.”