• illustration of brain with piece missing

    Mayo Clinic awarded $5.3 million federal grant to study vascular risk factors in dementia

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus was awarded a $5.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify vascular risk factors in aging and dementia, and translate that knowledge into studying potential targets for treatment.closeup of young hands and older hands working on a puzzle

The grant is one of the first awarded as part of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which called for an aggressive and coordinated national Alzheimer’s disease plan. The first goal of the national plan is to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

Guojun Bu, Ph.D., molecular neuroscientist, and Nilüfer Ertekin-Taner, M.D., Ph.D., neurologist and neurogeneticist, are the principal investigators for the study. Both are based on Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus. Several additional investigators on Mayo’s Florida and Rochester, Minnesota, campuses, as well as Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, will be involved.

Jounalists: Sound bites with Guojun Bu, Ph.D., and Nilüfer Ertekin-Taner, M.D., Ph.D., are available in the downloads.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kevin Punsky, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 904-953-0746, punsky.kevin@mayo.edu

“Alzheimer’s disease is an epidemic affecting 35 million people worldwide,” says Dr. Ertekin-Taner. “It’s going to escalate unless we can stop it or slow it down. It’s going to take an army and an interdisciplinary approach for a cure because Alzheimer’s is not one disease; there is not one pathway to get to Alzheimer’s.”

The NIH grant will fund a five-year study of the association between vascular disease and Alzheimer’s and related dementias, pulling together Mayo’s teams in Florida and Minnesota working on laboratory studies, population studies, patient-provided data, and brain pathology.

The study capitalizes on Mayo Clinic’s strengths in both medical care and research to study:

  • How the strongest genetic risk factor – a variant of a protein all humans have, called apolipoprotein E (APOE) – confers risk for dementia
  • Reasons for the sex differences in the development of Alzheimer’s, for which women are at significantly greater risk
  • The relationship between vascular diseases and Alzheimer’s and related dementias

The study will include clinical data and biomedical samples from 400 living patients. It will leverage the data collected through the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, which follows patients in Olmsted County, Minnesota over time, providing valuable information in clinical behaviors and biomarker changes.

The study also will incorporate brain pathology data from 400 brains provided by the Mayo Clinic Brain Bank on the Florida campus, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of donated brains for medical study. The grant includes study of vascular outcomes, such as stroke or bleeding in the brain, as well as imaging studies of vascular signatures in the brain.

Dr. Bu uses individualized medicine and regenerative medicine techniques to take patients’ skin or blood cells, and differentiate them into stem cells. He then creates brain or vascular cell types to study diseases. He is a leader in development of animal and cell models to study APOE.

“Part of the reason I work at Mayo is the close integration of clinicians and basic scientists, and the rich resources for clinical studies driven by physicians,” says Dr. Bu. “This is a team effort, and it would be hard, if not impossible, for one researcher to do it alone.”

Dr. Ertekin-Taner says it is because patients and families agree to provide samples for study that Mayo Clinic is able to conduct this study.

“I want to thank them,” says Dr. Ertekin-Taner. “They are absolutely our partners. They are making a difference and working toward a cure.”

She says the most common question from patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their families is whether there is a cure.

“Being able to work with Dr. Bu and our colleagues on this study gives me hope,” says Dr. Ertekin-Taner. “My patients’ resilience is humbling. Their gratitude is humbling, and this motivates me to find a cure.”

Additional participants in the study on Mayo’s Florida campus are:

Participants on Mayo’s Rochester campus are:

Rui Chang, Ph.D., Systems Biology, is participating from Mount Sinai School of Medicine.


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