The nonprofit organization Alzheimer’s North Carolina, Inc., has awarded a $130,000 grant to launch a new collaborative effort by the UNC School of Medicine, Duke University and other academic research institutions to join forces in the race to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Daniel I. Kaufer, MD

The grant will fund planning and first steps for the North Carolina Regional Consortium for Brain Health in Aging. The consortium is intended to draw together the state’s major academic institutions that are engaged in Alzheimer’s disease research, along with potential partners in industry, primary care, and other stakeholders, into a collaborative network to spur research and innovation. Combining efforts will speed the pace of discovery and hasten the process of translating that discovery into improvements in prevention and treatment, the consortium’s leaders say.

UNC and Duke will jointly coordinate the effort, bringing together partners at Wake Forest and Eastern Carolina University (ECU) for the purpose of leveraging resources to enable joint research.

Daniel Kaufer, MD, associate professor of neurology and psychiatry, division chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology and director of the UNC Memory Disorders Program, is co-principal investigator for the consortium. Kathleen Welsh-Bohmer, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Duke and the director of the Duke-based Joseph and Kathleen Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, is also co-principal investigator.

A primary aim of this consortium, according to Dr. Kaufer, is to promote the early identification of memory problems and appropriate interventions, including participation in research studies. “While there is no way to know if experimental drug A or drug B will work, it’s a good bet that the more people we get involved in research, the more progress we are likely to make,” Kaufer said. In his role as neurology consultant to the Carolina Clinic where he conducts “brain fitness evaluations,” Kaufer also foresees an increasing role for preventive maintenance. “Exercise, sleep, and diet are the three pillars of brain health, and optimizing these variables is the best therapeutic strategy we have right now.”

Dr. Kaufer will oversee the coordination of UNC research activities into the consortium, and will serve as the consortium’s liaison to primary care physicians via his role as co-director of the Carolina Alzheimer’s Network. He will facilitate informing community physicians about consortium research activities and will be responsible for implementing web-based clinical support tools.