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UCI, USC Get $5 Million for Alzheimer’s Research

Times Staff Writer

UC Irvine officials announced Thursday that their university and USC have received a $5-million federal grant to jointly operate a research center for Alzheimer’s disease, the progressive brain disorder that affects 4 million Americans.

The new center is one of 12 across the nation that were funded July 1 by the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md. Others are at UC San Diego, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Harvard-MIT in Boston.

The centers are “intended to serve as models for the nation in terms of quality of research,” said Zaven Khachaturian, director of the Office of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at the National Institute on Aging.

He said UCI scientists, particularly psychobiologist Carl Cotman, have been national leaders in neurobiology and in “identifying receptors that may be causing cell death.”

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Still, Khachaturian said, researchers are far from understanding why Alzheimer’s victims become demented, lose all intellectual function and slowly die. “We’re closer than we were 10 years ago, but we’re not close to the final solution,” he said.

About 30,000 residents of Orange and Los Angeles counties--about 13% of those over the age of 65--have Alzheimer’s, said Cotman, a UCI professor of psychobiology and neurology who is a co-director of the new Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Consortium of Los Angeles and Orange County.

At UCI, center researchers are planning to conduct trials of drugs that may lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and they will undertake an unusual study of Down’s syndrome patients. After the age of 40, Cotman noted, Down’s patients come down with a dementia and brain pathology that is strikingly similar to Alzheimer’s.

In addition, Cotman said, UCI radiologists will work on improving methods to scan the brain; neurobiologists will look at the ability of a brain afflicted with Alzheimer’s to generate growth. Researchers also will establish a repository of brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer patients.

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Also, UCI researchers will continue to diagnose Alzheimer’s patients and, in some cases, follow the progress of their disease. (Since January, UCI doctors, in a new state-funded program, have been diagnosing some Alzheimer’s patients and working with their families, Cotman said.)

UCI Involvement Expanded

Both UCI and USC have participated in an Alzheimer’s research consortium for the past five years, but the new grant greatly expands UCI’s involvement in the project, Cotman said.

It will mean $1.8 million to UCI over the next 5 years, starting with $390,000 this year. About 30 UCI scientists from such diverse fields as microbiology, radiology and pediatrics are expected to participate.

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By contrast, when the UCI-USC consortium began 5 years ago, UCI received about $35,000 a year, only four professors were involved and USC did most of the work, Cotman said. Finally, UCI is a “full-fledged” partner in the joint project, Cotman said.


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