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Updated 10:00 AM October 25, 2004




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U-M to help lead national Alzheimer's disease study

A team of U-M researchers is helping to lead an unprecedented $60 million national research effort aimed at finding better ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease.

The Oct. 13 announcement officially kicked off the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a massive joint effort by government agencies, universities and pharmaceutical companies. It is led by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Together, ADNI researchers will spend the next five years trying to unravel the mysteries of a disease that is stealing the memories, damaging the brains and hastening the deaths of 4 million Americans.

"ADNI will test new ways of using brain scans to give patients something they've never had before: a firm diagnosis and a good sense of how well new treatments are working," says U-M ADNI team leader and neurologist Dr. Norman Foster. "We'll also look for proteins that may help the development and testing of new treatments."

The U-M team will play a key role in one of the project's main aims: using brain scanning to diagnose and track the effects of treatment in people with suspected Alzheimer's disease or a mild form of memory loss that often precedes it.
For more information about
Alzheimer's disease, visit

U-M Health System (UMHS) researchers already are leaders in the use of positron emission tomography (PET) brain scanning in Alzheimer's disease. As leaders of ADNI's PET Quality and Analysis Data Coordinating Center, they will receive
$2 million in funding over five years to collect, standardize and analyze hundreds of PET scans made in dozens of hospitals nationwide. They will develop the standard PET scanning methods that will be used at all ADNI sites that have PET scanners.

U-M also is one of dozens of clinical sites nationwide that will recruit research participants from their local area, including people with suspected Alzheimer's disease, those with the memory-loss condition called mild cognitive impairment, and older people with no abnormal memory problems.

The ADNI effort is the latest research endeavor by the Michigan Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (MADRC) and its Cognitive Disorders Clinic, which each year sees hundreds of patients with suspected Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Dr. Judith Heidebrink, a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the Medical School, will lead U-M's clinical research effort for ADNI. She expects to begin recruiting in the spring participants with either no dementia, mild cognitive impairment or suspected Alzheimer's. In addition to a thorough neuropsychological examination, blood and urine tests, and an MRI scan, some participants also will be scanned using U-M's PET scanner. Some participants will be asked to donate a sample of their cerebrospinal fluid.

"ADNI will allow us to systematically study Alzheimer's disease with the best available technology to predict the onset of symptoms and rate of progression," Heidebrink says. "We hope its results will translate into a better way for us to diagnose and ultimately to treat patients."

ADNI researchers will use data from all the research sites to determine whether PET scans are more useful than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in Alzheimer's diagnosis and treatment tracking over time. They also will look for common proteins in the blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid of all ADNI patients, to look for patterns that could lead to the use of those proteins as biomarkers for Alzheimer's and pre-Alzheimer's conditions.

Foster, a professor of neurology who directs the Cognitive Disorders Clinic and serves as associate director of MADRC, will lead the PET Quality and Analysis Data Coordinating Center at U-M, one of three centers nationally that will focus on the PET scans in the ADNI project.

Foster's co-investigators on the U-M PET core are Bob Koeppe, director of the PET Physics Section in the Nuclear Medicine division of the Medical School's Department of Radiology, and Tom Nichols, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the School of Public Health.

For more information on Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment research and treatment at UMHS, visit

If you are interested in learning more about participating in ADNI and other Alzheimer's disease and dementia studies at U-M, call Joanne Lord at (734) 647-7760 or e-mail

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