The University of California has been awarded a nearly $14.7 million multi-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study contributors to dementia in the Latino population in the United States. The multicenter study will examine the biological underpinnings of stroke, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease among Hispanics, and pursue new therapeutic directions to reduce brain health disparities.

“This is the largest study of Latinos with cognitive impairment ever done,” said co-principal investigator Charles S. DeCarli (photo), director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “Latinos are the fastest growing minority population in our aging population, so cognitive impairment in this group is an important public health concern.”

UC Davis and nine other institutions across the country will participate in the research. The investigators will draw from the more than 16,000-patient cohort of the ongoing Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL), a multicenter epidemiologic study primarily focused on cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. An ancillary study, the Study of Latinos-Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging (SOL-INCA), is examining genetic and cardiovascular disease risk factors for neurocognitive deficits, and will also provide important data for this research.

DeCarli, a UC Davis Health professor of neurology, noted that the Latino population is especially important to study in the field of dementia because they have a higher prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and obesity compared to non-Hispanic Caucasians, all risk factors for stroke and dementia. Rates of Alzheimer’s disease are about 1.5 times higher than in white non-Hispanics.

The study will make use of leading-edge magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, which can help assess vascular brain injury and patterns of atrophy seen in Alzheimer’s disease. MRIs will be acquired at the partnering institutions and evaluated at UC Davis.

“Advanced neuroimaging techniques can help us better understand the relationship between brain structure and function with aging and disease,” said DeCarli, who directs the UC Davis Imaging of Dementia and Aging (IDeA) laboratory. “The information attained will help us to better design and monitor new therapies.”

Study investigators will also explore the role of genetics in Alzheimer’s disease. The E4 variant of the apoliprotein gene has been strongly implicated in increasing the risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in non-Hispanic Caucasians, but paradoxically, some Hispanic ethnic groups have a very low frequency of this allele despite high rates of dementia.

“What else is going on than genetics?” pondered DeCarli. “This grant will help us to advance this and many other interesting lines of research in this very ethnically and genetically diverse population group.”