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NIH grant helps KU answer the urgent need to develop the next generation of brain health researchers

The KU Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center received a prestigious five-year, $1.5 million grant to expand and strengthen its program to boost brain health researchers.

Female researcher in dark lab looks through microscope with brain scans projected on screens beside and behind her
The KU Alzheimer's Disease Research Center will use the T32 grant to steadily increase the number of funded trainees over the next several years.

As dementia researchers at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (KU ADRC) push the field in innovative directions, a new five-year, $1.5 million National Institutes of Health training grant will grow the next generation of scientists to continue the search for effective treatments and cures.

The KU ADRC will use the National Research Service Award Institutional Research Training Grant (commonly known as a T32) to expand and strengthen its already established Brain Health Training Program. It will be the only existing T32 at KU Medical Center that has postdoctoral fellowship positions.

Over the past 10 years the KU ADRC purposefully and strategically added to the number of brain-health-focused researchers at KU Medical Center, but Jeffrey Burns, M.D., co-director of the KU ADRC and co-principal investigator on the grant, believes it’s not enough to keep up with the rising need for these specialists, hence the urgent push to grow the training program. 

“Of the 33 Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers nationwide, some have T32 grants, and some don’t, but for us, it’s a sign of maturity,” Burns said. “Our goal is to be a national leader in preparing aspiring scientists and clinicians to advance clinical and translational brain health research. I believe this grant will help us accomplish that really important vision.”

The KU ADRC will use the grant to build out its Brain Health Training Program to eventually support:

  • Three postdoctoral research fellows (Two-year terms)
  • Four graduate students (Two-year terms)
  • Three undergraduate students (Summer term)
  • Four medical students (Summer term)
  • One to two clinical fellows in behavioral neurology or stroke (One-year term)

The KU ADRC will launch the enhanced Brain Health Training Program with the selection of one postdoctoral fellow and one predoctoral trainee before opening its summer program for undergraduates in 2023. Then the center will steadily increase the number of funded trainees to the goal of three postdoctoral fellows and four graduate students.

Jill Morris, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the KU ADRC, is a member of the KU ADRC Brain Health Training Program Board of Directors and a member of a national ADRC effort called the Research and Education (REC) Core Diversity Workgroup, which is developing national initiatives that can be implemented by training programs across the country. She emphasized how crucial training programs are like the one at the KU ADRC to advancing dementia research.

“It’s very important to have a structured training program that can provide students and fellows with networking opportunities and equip them with dementia-specific knowledge through coursework and mentors, among other activities,” she said.

To that end, the KU ADRC Brain Health Training Program will include pairing predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees with mentors, providing chances for trainees to engage with other faculty researchers to learn different perspectives, and offering trainees opportunities to take part in peer-to-peer interactions. There also will be formal coursework, such as the Clinical and Translational Basics of Dementia, which will be offered by the KU School of Medicine in the spring.  

As the KU ADRC Brain Health Training Program evolves with the T32 grant, one crucial element will remain in place, and that’s the program’s commitment to diversity, said Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for stroke translational research in the Department of Neurology and co-principal investigator on the grant. Incorporating scientists from a broad range of backgrounds is important to the field to make sure treatments, cures and care fit everyone.

“We are very proud that the Brain Health Training Program over the last decade has been highly inclusive. With the addition of the T32 training grant, we are excited about continuing this success,” Billinger said. “Through this training program, we will develop the next generation of scientists and leaders who will help us find a cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

For more information about the KU ADRC Brain Health Training Program, visit the KU ADRC website, email or call 913-588-0555.

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