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Collaborators funded by Extendicare Foundation to research links between depression, Alzheimer’s

Oct. 21, 2013 College News - Depression, which is the leading cause of disability worldwide, is also known to double a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but physicians and scientists do not currently know which individuals with depression are more likely to progress to Alzheimer’s. A Medical College of Wisconsin researcher has earned a $150,000 grant from the Extendicare Foundation that will join multiple organizations in collaboration to study the impact of depression and family history on brain structure and function.

“We want to find ways to identify individuals with depression who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said study leader Joseph Goveas, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine and Institute for Health and Society at MCW. “If someone presents to the clinic with depression, who are we most worried about developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future? A doctor may tell you that you are at increased risk for heart disease because of family history, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, etc. We do not have a similar analogy in Alzheimer’s disease. We don’t know who among the depressed is at increased risk.”

The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease bear hallmarks defining the disease, and they can be visible to advanced scanning technology several years before clinical symptoms appear. Brain volume can be an indicator of disease. If there is a reduction in gray matter in regions of the brain including the hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex or parts of the frontal lobe, it suggests atrophy or brain cell death in those areas.

Using various techniques, including resting state functional connectivity MRI and diffusion tensor imaging, Dr. Goveas and his team will examine these areas of the brain in middle-age adults who have symptoms of depression or a family history of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (developing after about 60 years of age). The study seeks to determine if the presence of depression affects the brain’s gray matter volume, structure or its function, which may provide answers as to which patients are predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

The project is also notable for the way it optimizes resources through partnership among multiple MCW departments and state-wide institutions, which will result in greater impact for fewer dollars. The study will incorporate data from suitable participants enrolled in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, a nationally supported study managed by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute (WAI), an independent center within the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The WAI also works in collaboration with the federally funded Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UW.

At MCW, Dr. Goveas is also rallying the resources of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of Southeast Wisconsin, the Center for Imaging Research and the departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Neurology and Biophysics.

“This project is a sterling example of collaboration, marshaling diverse resources to achieve a common research goal,” said MCW President and CEO John R. Raymond, Sr. MD. “This approach, combined with generous philanthropic support from the Extendicare Foundation, should lead to a better understanding of the factors contributing to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Funding of this research is a direct reflection of the Extendicare Foundation’s mission, which includes improving the quality of life for residents of nursing homes and assisted living centers.

“Dr. Goveas’ study will evaluate the effect of depression and depressive symptoms on areas of the brain known to be affected in Alzheimer’s disease,” said LaRae Nelson, President of the Extendicare Foundation. “By studying middle-aged asymptomatic persons, the study will provide important information about the role that depression plays in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Based in Milwaukee, the Extendicare Foundation is a national nonprofit organization supported solely by the employees of Extendicare Health Services, Inc.

If you are interested in participating in or referring someone to this study, please contact Stacy at (414) 955-8970.

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Page Updated 10/21/2013