PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania’s Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center (ADCC) has been awarded an estimated $8.8 million over five years from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to continue its mission of investigating mechanisms, diagnostics, treatments and strategies for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and related dementias including Parkinson’s disease (PD), Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD), Lewy Body dementia (LBD) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD).

John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD

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Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania Health System

Discoveries from Penn’s ADCC have advanced understanding of the development and progression of AD and related neurodegenerative dementias over the past 25 years, leading to national and international recognition of its research accomplishments.

“This funding will allow us to build on these successes,” said John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, the William Maul Measey-Truman G. Schnabel, Jr., M.D. Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology and a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine and founding director of the Penn ADCC. The renewal funding will take the Penn ADCC through year 30 and support the Center’s efforts to recruit, follow and study subjects with AD, especially at their earliest stage, as well as study healthy subjects, with a special emphasis on the African-American population. The funding will also enhance the center’s bioinformatics infrastructure to better integrate different types of data, as well as expand banks for central nervous system (CNS) tissues, DNA and biofluids for diagnostic studies to better understand AD mechanisms. Finally, these funds will expand the Penn ADCC’s commitment to educating the next generation of dementia researchers.

The Penn ADCC has a history of groundbreaking discoveries. For example, researchers at Penn were the first to discover the protein tau as the building blocks of neurofibrillary tangles, one of the two hallmark brain lesions that cause AD. Their research also showed that Lewy bodies in PD, PDD and LBD and 50 percent of AD patients are formed by the protein alpha-synuclein. They also discovered the protein TDP-43 as the genesis for the inclusions in FTLD and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and in 50 percent of AD patients. These discoveries provided new information about the pathology of AD and showed that therapies to treat AD would likely need to target the AD plaques and tangles that define the disease, as well as alpha-synuclein and TDP-43 pathologies which also are associated with cognitive impairments. In addition, the Penn ADCC contributed to defining biomarkers for early stage AD that have improved the conduct of AD clinical trials, increased the diversity of ADCC study populations, clarified ethical issues related to disclosing sensitive genetic and other diagnostic information to patients, and conducted clinical trials of therapies to prevent or slow AD progression.

Trojanowski and his collaborators lead the ADCC’s six areas of research and clinical operations, known as “cores.” These leaders include Murray Grossman, MD, EdD, professor of Neurology; Jason Karlawish, MD, professor of Medicine, Medical Ethics and Health Policy and co-associate director of the ADCC; Eddie Lee, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Virginia Lee, PhD, MBA, John H. Ware 3rd Endowed Professor in Alzheimer's Research; Vivianna Van Deerlin, MD, PhD, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Li-San Wang, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; David Wolk, MD, associate professor of Neurology and co-associate director of the ADCC; and Sharon Xie, PhD, professor of Biostatistics in the department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. These faculty come from five different departments in the Perelman School of Medicine, which reflects the increasingly multi-disciplinary nature of research on AD and related dementias.

“We are pleased to renew our support for the Penn ADC so that it may continue contributing to our national effort to end the devastation wrought by Alzheimer’s and related dementias,” said Nina Silverberg, PhD, an Alzheimer's Disease Centers program director at the National Institute on Aging, part of NIH. “We are hopeful our support for the Penn ADC research program will lead to novel findings on the basic mechanisms involved in these diseases, and innovative new programs aimed at improving the lives of those living with dementia and their caregivers.”

The Alzheimer’s Disease Centers (ADC) program was launched by the NIA in 1984 to establish a broad-based research effort at a time when aging and AD research languished behind more established scientific disciplines. The program was expanded in 1990, leading to the creation of Penn’s ADCC in 1991. There are currently 29 ADCs in total and the Penn ADCC is regarded as exceptional for the extent to which it collaborates with other ADCs and focuses on AD and related dementias.

“The creation of ADCs marked the beginning of the recognition of AD and related disorders by the NIH,” Trojanowski said. “Through the ADCs, the NIH has served as a champion for the development of potential treatments as the incidence of AD and related dementias are on the rise.”

“The continued support of the NIA allows us to keep our foot on the gas in the hopes that scientific discovery will lead to clinical trials and treatments for this devastating set of diseases,” he added.

The Center’s support comes from NIA grant 2P30AG010124-26.

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