Research Projects and Funding
Dr. Mark A. Gluck (October, 2016)
For the first 8 years, from 2006 until 2014, the African American Brain Health Initiative (AABHI) at Rutgers University-Newark was run as a joint program between the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience and the Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP). During that time, the AABHI was dedicated to community outreach and education programs relating to brain-healthy lifestyle practices and Alzheimer’s awareness for seniors. Starting in 2014, with support from the Chancellor’s Office, we began to build on our community partnerships to create a major national center of excellence for community-engaged research on African American brain health, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease. This support came in the form of two internal Rutgers seed grants, one for $160,000 for the “Rutgers University–Newark Center of Excellence and Community-based Participatory Research on African-American Brain Health” and the other for $50,000 for the “Newark Brain Health Ambassadors, Scholars and Pioneers Program”. This internal funding allowed us to hire key personnel and begin to collect pilot data that subsequently lead to two significant external federal research studies, both of which include the community-based outreach and educational programs of the AABHI as a key component for building participant recruitment for these studies:
(Study #1). INTERVENTIONAL STUDY OF EXERCISE AND BRAIN HEALTH. This five-year (8/2015-8/2020) grant of $1,000,000 from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through, and with the NJ State Department of Health’s Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, supports a project on “Improving Mental Health and Physical Activity in Older African Americans.” This study addresses two questions: (i) Can participation in a dance-based exercise class improve memory and brain function in older African Americans? (ii) Will regular exercise reduce the risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease? To answer these, we offer 20-week dance-based (Zumba) exercise classes twice a week at local churches, senior centers, and public housing for African Americans age 55-80. By assessing people’s mood, and health, both before and after the study, we will evaluate the ability of dance-based exercise to improve memory functions that often decline with aging.
(Study #2). LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF RISK FACTORS FOR DECLINE TO ALZHEIMER’S DEMENTIA. There is a dearth of data on the various factors that influence individual differences in cognitive resilience among older African Americans, especially for those living on low incomes and in public housing. This study, “Pathways to Brain Health for African Americans: A Community-Based Participatory Research Study,” is expected to last 5 or more years. It has been given, initially, one year of probationary funding for $582,800 (9/2016-9/2017) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Institute of Aging. Using community-engaged research methods, along with behavioral, cognitive, neurocomputational modeling, and brain imaging technologies, we are conducting both correlational and longitudinal studies of African Americans, aged 65 and above, who are at high risk for age-related cognitive decline. The project aims to: (1) characterize the relative contributions of modifiable health and lifestyle factors to age-related cognitive decline in African Americans and (2) identify early predictors of future cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease. A key component of this project is our new partnership with the University of California at Irvine and their NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), one of 33 National Centers of Excellence in Alzheimer’s Research. With pilot data from the first six months of this grant, we will re-apply in March 2017 to NIH for a full 5-years of funding.
In summary, over the last two years we have raised almost $1.8 million dollars to support our research and related community programs. Through these grants we will be able to continue and expand the community outreach and education programs in Newark with our community-based partners at local churches, senior centers, city and state government offices, and public and federally-assisted low-income housing. Within Rutgers, the AABHI has expanded beyond the original involvement of Neuroscience and OUCP, to include Rutgers faculty and graduate students from the Department of Psychology, RBHS/Neurology, School of Social Work, School of Public Health, and the School of Nursing. The 2016-2017 academic year will be one of continued growth and expansion, both for our research, as well as for the AABHI’s integrated community outreach, education, and research participant recruitment programs that serve the needs of our community seniors and the missions of our many community partners.
We are interested in studying African-Americans in Newark across the life-span (from 20s through 90s) and understanding better the interaction between life-style factors (such as exercise, diet, and sleep patterns) and genetics in determining why some people’s cognitive function remains high throughout their life, while others decline prematurely. For more information, or to participate in these research studies, please contact us at email@example.com or call our research coordinator, Lisa Haber-Chalom, at (973) 353-3674.
New Award in 2015:
5-Year Award from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in partnership with the NJ Department of Health’s Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, “Improving Mental Health and Physical Activity in Older African- Americans in Newark: A State-University-Church Partnership”
1. How do individual differences in health and lifestyle affect the risk for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease in older African Americans?
African Americans are known to be at elevated risk for age-related cognitive decline and memory loss, exhibiting twice the rate of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as the general population. However, insufficient data exists on the role of within-group heterogeneity in mediating individual differences among African Americans in their risk for cognitive decline and AD. Our research is driven by two hypotheses: (1) Given epidemiological studies showing high rates of sedentary life styles, low levels of physical activity, poorer sleep quality and reduced sleep duration in older African Americans, we predict variations in physical fitness and sleep will be significant factors that correlate with individual differences in cognitive and neural resilience in older African Americans, and (2) Deficits in generalization—the ability to apply previously learned rules to novel task demands and new stimuli—will correlate with, and longitudinally predict, the cognitive decline and neural changes in prodromal AD.
2. For older African Americans at risk for poor brain health due to sedentary lifestyles or obesity, which aspects of cognition and brain function can be improved through a dance-based exercise program integrated into local church health ministries?
Current Funding: NJ Department of Health (with federal funding from Health & Human Services).
African Americans are at elevated risk for age-related cognitive decline and memory loss, having double the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease as white Americans. This is likely due to a range of modifiable factors including insufficient physical activity and low levels of aerobic exercise. Regular aerobic exercise, even later in life, can improve the function of key brain regions that decline with age. However, two key questions remain open: (1) what are the relative contributions of different modifiable lifestyle factors to age-related cognitive decline in African Americans? (2) can culturally-appropriate programs of regular aerobic exercise be embedded within community and faith-based institutions that serve older African-Americans to mitigate these factors and promote better brain health with aging?