Sanders-Brown Named Site for Landmark NIH Grant

The University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA) has been selected to participate in a multicenter, landmark $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to identify biomarkers for vascular cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID).

UK was one of just seven sites selected for the five-year NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) grant. The other sites are Boston University, Rush University, Johns Hopkins, University of Southern California, UCSF/UC-Davis and the University of New Mexico. The awards establish the new national Small Vessel VCID Biomarkers Consortium.

"We're thrilled to be collaborating with such a respected group of scientists to pursue this important avenue," said Donna Wilcock, Ph.D., associate professor and co-PI for the SBCoA study site.

Each site will use the first two years of the grant to explore the efficacy of different biomarkers for VCID, which would be the first step towards diagnosis and, ultimately, treatment for this common cause of cognitive impairment and dementia, according to Wilcock. Sanders-Brown will look at potential fluid biomarkers while the other centers will research imaging, biological measures and/or cognitive testing.

"We will be testing blood plasma and cerebral spinal fluid in a cohort of about 250 people to identify inflammatory proteins and other proteins associated with blood vessel injury as a biomarker for VCI," said Dr. Gregory Jicha, Sanders-Brown professor and co-PI.

In the remaining three years, Sanders-Brown researchers will share its approach to measuring biomarkers in fluids and also cross-reference data from other consortium centers with a goal towards consensus on a single or combination of approaches that correlate with accurate VCI diagnosis.

"Without a definitive method to diagnose VCI early in disease progression, we can't proceed to the next step, which is to identify treatments," said Wilcock. "Since most people develop some level of VCI as they age, the ability to identify and treat this disease will have a profound impact on the health and independence of our aging population."

Sanders-Brown sits at the epicenter of the American 'stroke belt,' said Roderick Corriveau, NINDS Project Officer for the study. "That, in combination with their exceptional technical skills and knowledge of VCID and other dementias, make them a valuable part of the Small Vessel VCID Biomarkers Consortium."

Dr. Robert DiPaola, dean of the UK College of Medicine, points out that this grant demonstrates UK's commitment to conduct truly translational research.

"This kind of study exemplifies the transdisciplinary collaboration where research crosses multiple boundaries to solve our most important healthcare needs," DiPaola said. "Sanders-Brown has been a pioneer in the effort to conduct translational science at UK, and this grant is a fitting acknowledgement of the quality of their work."

UK initiated its aging program in 1963. With a grant from the Eleanor and John Y. Brown Jr. Foundation in 1972, the construction of the current Sanders-Brown Research Building was begun and, with additional funding from the state, a program in biomedical research was implemented. In 1979, under the direction of the late Dr. William Markesbery, Sanders-Brown emerged as a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of life for the elderly through research and education.