PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Brown University has received $53.4 million, the largest federal grant in school history, to help lead an effort to improve health care and quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The National Institute of Aging, a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, awarded the five-year grant to Brown and Hebrew SeniorLife, a Boston-based research affiliate of Harvard Medical School that has worked with Brown on aging research for nearly four decades.
The newly announced money will go toward the creation of a research incubator that will try to come up with solutions for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s-related dementia, along with their caregivers, according to Brown.
Vincent Mor, a Brown professor who will co-lead the new collaborative, said in a statement he thinks the grant will revolutionize research into Alzheimer’s.
“The key is figuring out how to take an idea that worked in an ideal situation and adapt it so it can be piloted in the messy real-world system of care providers that exists across the U.S.,” said Mor, who will lead the incubator along with Dr. Susan Mitchell, a research scientist and Harvard professor.
The research center will be called the NIA Imbedded Pragmatic AD/ADRD Clinical Trials Collaboratory, or IMPACT, and will be overseen by the Center for Long-Term Care Quality and Innovation at Brown’s School of Public Health. It will focus on two objectives.
The first is to fund and assist up to 40 pilot trials across the country to test non-drug, care-based interventions for people living with dementia. The second is to develop best practices for implementing and evaluating interventions for Alzheimer’s and dementia care, which Brown said will be shared broadly with the research community.
Alzheimer’s is increasingly costly to families and communities across the United States. In Rhode Island, 23,000 people aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s and 53,000 family caregivers bear the burden, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The time spent providing care amounts to more than $760 million in unpaid work, and the disease has cost the state Medicaid program more than $400 million, the association estimates. The group also projects the more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia is expected to double by 2050.
“Alzheimer’s and dementia remain among the most vexing neurodegenerative diseases both to researchers searching for solutions and to patients and family members,” said Brown President Christina Paxson in a statement.
Given the complexity of the disease and the far-reaching effects it has on individuals and their families, Hebrew SeniorLife President and CEO Louis Woolf said he was proud to collaborate with Brown to address the “national epidemic that affects not only patients, but their families and caregivers as well.”
“It’s time for Alzheimer’s and other dementias to receive the same level of research focus and investment as cancer,” Woolf said.
Washington has been steering more funding to Brown in recent years, with total federally funded research expenditures growing from $149 million in 2013-14 to $187 million in 2017-18. Prior to the new Alzheimer’s grant, the record for biggest federal research award at Brown was $39 million given to its Education Alliance between 2000 and 2006.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted that Congress has quadrupled federal funding for Alzheimer’s research since 2011, bringing the total to $2.34 billion in the current budget. The increase “has led to significant progress in terms of preventing and treating Alzheimer’s,” he said in a statement.
“But we’ve got to do more because if we don’t, families will suffer and taxpayers will be paying hundreds of billions annually in Alzheimer’s-related health care costs,” he continued.
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who chairs Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council and heads its Alzheimer’s Executive Board, called it “an exciting day for Rhode Island.”
“Over the last several years, our state has proven itself as a leader in advancing research, innovating care and supporting families impacted by Alzheimer’s,” he said, noting the legislature recently adopted a new State Plan on Alzheimer’s proposed by his office.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.