September 26, 2013
Alzheimer's disease researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center have received $3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the role of exercise in preventing the disease. It will be one of the first such studies in the country.
Researchers at the medical center hope to enroll healthy adults 65 and older in a new effort called the Alzheimer's Prevention Program. Participants determined to be at higher risk for Alzheimer's disease would exercise by walking on a treadmill regularly over the course of a year. After completing the study, brain scans would show whether the participants were at higher or lower risk.
"This is the first time we can really test the impact of exercise on prevention of Alzheimer's disease," said Jeffrey Burns, M.D., professor of neurology at KU Medical Center and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center.
Burns and other colleagues at KU Medical Center's Alzheimer's Disease Center, one of only 29 such centers in the U.S. to have earned a National Institute on Aging designation, have worked for years on determining how exercise affects the brain. Recently announced prevention studies elsewhere are looking at new drugs that can affect amyloid protein in the brain, which is known to create plaques with patients who have Alzheimer's disease. However, this is one of the first trials examine the way exercise can affect the brain and potentially prevent Alzheimer's.
More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease, and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Burns says he hopes this new program will identify new answers to questions such as how much exercise is beneficial for the brain, and what types are best?
"Prevention of the disease is a whole new area for Alzheimer's research," Burns says. "We've never really been able to identify the risks like we can today."
The Alzheimer's Disease Center is now recruiting healthy adults older than 65 to participate in the trial. People interested in learning more about how to participate in the program may call 913-588-0555.
Joe Gittemeier, 71, of Prairie Village, Kan., will be the first person enrolled in the study. He said he was interested because he has seen the effects of the disease firsthand.
"Quite a number of people in our family have had Alzheimer's disease," Gittemeier said, including his father, his brother and his sister. "It is a terrible disease. I was interested in helping not only so I could get more exercise, but also to add to their body of knowledge and hopefully to help other people."
This work is supported by the NIH, grant No. AG043962, and by Frontiers: The Heartland Institute of Clinical and Translational Research, which is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, a division of the NIH, grant No. UL1TR000001.