Alzheimer's Disease – Health Care
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A University of Houston researcher is working to increase health literacy among Hispanics/Latinos (H/Ls) when it comes to Alzheimer's disease (AD). The largest ethnic minority in the U.S., at 18% of the population, H/Ls are 50% more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than non-Hispanic whites. H/Ls also live longer, develop AD symptoms earlier, are diagnosed at later stages and are less likely to be treated.

Given those statistics, it's startling that Hispanics/Latinos comprise less than 1% of clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease.

"From a social justice perspective, in order to help reduce health disparities we need to involve these communities in the decision-making process," said Luis D. Medina, assistant professor of psychology. He will use a $2.35 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to build his "Engaging Communities of Hispanics for Aging Research Network."

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"There are various barriers to getting involved in research, including health literacy or what people actually know about Alzheimer's disease. In the Hispanic/Latino communities, it is often thought of as just a part of aging," said Medina, who believes the solution begins with education.

The network will launch in two pilot cities, Houston and Denver. Step one is "boot camp translation" wherein community stakeholders are immersed in learning about the disease, and then the tables turn – the community members educate the trainers on how to speak to their communities.

In boot camp translation we break down the medical jargon to consumable, understandable lay language and the community tells us how to do that. The communities have a lot of strengths that we, as researchers, may or may not have. We are hoping to put more seats at the table so that the communities are involved in research infrastructure and help drive research projects."

Luis D. Medina, assistant professor of psychology, University of Houston

Steven Woods, UH professor of psychology and Jennifer Vardeman, UH associate professor of communication, are assisting on the project in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas.

Medina plans to expand the project to Las Vegas next as he creates a template for other cities to follow.

"This is about lifting all of us up and improving brain health. The more representative our research samples are, the better we can understand the disease," said Medina, who was recently invited to serve on the Alzheimer's Association International Research Grant Program Council to help craft funding opportunity requests for applications, provide expertise during grant review and make funding recommendations. The association is especially interested in Medina's input on issues related to the recruitment of underrepresented populations.

Source:

University of Houston

Two grants will fund interdisciplinary research at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, including a look at how neurons and muscle cells communicate with each other and also to develop a drug delivery system for treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

The grant from the National Science Foundation will facilitate the study of how neurons and muscle cells communicate with each other.

My group is interested in engineering functional muscle and using it to assemble autonomous bioactuator systems.

The muscle engineered in vitro is not the same as the muscles in our body because the system does not have any innervating motor neurons. This project is to understand how we can facilitate the innervation of the neurons into the muscle."

Hyunjoon Kong, a Robert W. Schafer professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering

Kong's lab will collaborate with Gabriel Popescu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Martha Gillette, a professor of cell and developmental biology. All are affiliated with the Beckman Institute.

In addition to studying how the neurons and muscle cells communicate, the Kong group will also look at the interaction between neurons and glial cells, which influence neuronal activity. "Although glial cells are not well characterized, they are known to provide certain signals that make the neurons transmit their electrical signals," Kong said.

"I will be working with Martha Gillette's group, who are experts in neurobiology and can guide us in what type of neural cells to look at," Kong said. "Popescu group members are experts at imaging intracellular events and we want to use their imaging techniques to demonstrate the interaction between the neurons and the muscle cells."

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Members of the Kong group hope that the study will enable them to understand how neurons can be reactivated in injured muscle, which can help improve the treatment of various neuromuscular disorders and acute muscle injuries.

The second grant, from the Alzheimer's Foundation, will fund research by the Kong group in collaboration with Hee Jung Chung, an associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and Beckman Institute faculty member.

The grant will study how a drug that has the potential to treat Alzheimer's disease can be delivered into the body. The drug was developed to target tau proteins that, along with β-amyloid proteins, cause the disease. "Historically, researchers have been focused on treatments that reduce the β-amyloid proteins. However, a large group of patients do not respond to those treatments because the tau proteins are also responsible," Kong said.

The Kong group hopes to join the research effort that is now focusing on synthesizing nano-sized drug carriers that can target the tau protein. "The drug that targets tau proteins cannot be currently used because it is hydrophobic and therefore cannot dissolve in water," Kong said. "As a result, you cannot deliver it orally or through injection." The group will try to solve the problem by encapsulating the drug in a nanoparticle system that can be used to target the diseased regions of the brain.

Source:

Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology