Celebrating Alzheimer’s Science and Clinical Care

The Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease held the 28th annual Alzheimer’s Day on May 5, returning to campus for the first time in three years. Courtesy of Teresa Crawford Photo.

The Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease held the 28th annual Alzheimer Day on May 5, returning to campus for the first time in three years.

M. Marsel Mesulam, MD, chief of Behavioral Neurology, the Ruth Dunbar Davee Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Mesulam Center, welcomed attendees to the event, highlighting the recent renewal supporting from several large grants the center and thanked research participants and their families — noting that without them, no center activities would be possible.

M. Marsel Mesulam, MD, chief of Behavioral Neurology, the Ruth Dunbar Davee Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Mesulam Center, welcomed attendees to the event. Courtesy of Teresa Crawford Photo.

“Each one of you and your families deserve gold medals, thank you very much for your contributions to our research,” Mesulam said.

The keynote Mendelson Lecture was delivered by Lisa Barnes, PhD, professor of Neurological Sciences at Rush Medical College, who spoke about social and environmental factors that impacted cognitive aging in racial and ethnic minority patients.

Impeding progress on this front is poor recruitment of racial and ethnic minority subjects into research, according to Barnes, who set out to fix this problem with her Minority Aging Research Study (MARS). MARS is a prospective cohort study of 800 older age Black patients, with the goal of examining how aging may differ in a racial minority cohort.

For example, Barnes discovered that a gene variant thought to have no impact on risk of Alzheimer’s was actually protective in Black people, a finding that had been obscured by the low inclusion of Black patients in genetic studies.

The keynote Mendelson Lecture was delivered by Lisa Barnes, PhD, professor of Neurological Sciences at Rush Medical College. Courtesy of Teresa Crawford Photo.

“Nobody had noticed this before — you can ask different questions when you include different people,” Barnes said.

Barnes also takes a broader view of risk factors, measuring associations between experiences such as racism, unfair treatment and childhood poverty to poor cognition later in life.

“We have to think about policies that will help people mitigate some of this stress to create an equitable society for everyone, so everyone can age in the same way,” Barnes said.

The scientific poster session showcased dozens of projects, with topics ranging from fundamental mechanisms of neurons to new modalities of speech therapy tailored for an online world.

Nalini Rao, a student in the Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience program (NUIN), presented on research into dysfunction in synaptic vesicles, one of the earliest changes yet discovered in Alzheimer’s disease. Conducting her work in the laboratory of Jeffrey Savas, PhD, assistant professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology’s Division of Behavioral Neurology, Rao is exploring how lags in protein degradation may lead to buildup of toxic amyloid-beta protein aggregates.

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