UCI Takes a Unique Approach to Researching Orange County’s Third-Leading Cause of Death
At UCI MIND researchers from 19 different fields are working toward ridding the world of Alzheimer’s disease
UCI is redefining medical research, leading scientific breakthroughs that are advancing the fight against diseases and helping to save lives in Orange County and beyond. As OC’s only research university, UCI has introduced many innovative approaches to scientific research – including encouraging collaboration and knowledge-sharing among a wide range of scientific disciplines to create new perspectives and insights. These innovations, combined with the state-of-the-art facilities comprising the UCI Health System, are providing both new learnings and greater access to care for patients. Case in point: UCI’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders
For more than 30 years, UCI’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders has been helping to advance the world’s scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease – the most common cause of dementia and a leading cause of death for people over 65. Today, the institute is internationally recognized for its research accomplishments in age-related brain disorders.
A major component of UCI MIND’s many research breakthroughs – which scientists worldwide now use in their own work to study and combat Alzheimer’s – has been the institute’s innovative, interdisciplinary approach.
The institute welcomes specialists from a wide range of fields – from neurobiology to epidemiology to neurology and geriatrics to physiology and biophysics – to work collaboratively and share knowledge across disciplines. Fiercely dedicated to leading this worldwide effort, the institute is approaching Alzheimer’s research from all angles.
One of only 31 designated Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers funded by the National Institutes of Health – and the only ADRC in Orange County – UCI MIND has been awarded more than $150 million in NIH funding to help the scientific community better understand, diagnose, treat and care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Advancing Alzheimer’s research around the world
UCI scientists have achieved breakthroughs that have enriched the global research community’s understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Here are just a few examples.
- Producing one of the most widely used studies on Alzheimer’s
Initiated by the institute in 2003, The 90+ Study investigates cognitive decline in people 90 and older, the fastest-growing age group in the U.S. It has become one of the most widely cited studies in the field, referenced in hundreds of scientific papers and even featured on “60 Minutes.”
- Supporting dementia patients’ caregivers during COVID-19
At the outset of the pandemic, the institute’s faculty understood immediately that both the lockdowns and the virus itself put people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers at higher risk than the general population with the need for masking, and social distancing, which create barriers to the type of care patients need. So, the institute took swift action.
The institute’s scientists also contributed to UCI’s comprehensive resource site for dementia patients’ caregivers during the pandemic. It also hosted virtual panels on relevant topics such as “Caring for the Caregiver.” While research is a long-term investment, UCI MIND was able to provide immediate help to Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers when they needed it.
- Training more than 300 new scientists in neurological and memory disorders
One of the institute’s most important contributions to the global fight against Alzheimer’s is its training of new generations of scientists to combat the disease and care for the people it harms. To date, they’ve trained more than 300 scientists and researchers in fields that are advancing the fight against brain disorders.
Recently, for example, UCI MIND and the UCI School of Medicine launched the Research and Mentorship Program, pairing medical students with the institute’s faculty mentors to inspire future careers in dementia research and care. RAMP received support from philanthropic partners Dr. Lorna Carlin and the nonprofit HFC, led by Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Rogen.
As the field currently grapples with a serious shortage of geriatric healthcare professionals, RAMP aims to inspire enthusiastic trainees to choose careers advancing knowledge about and care for older adults.
And as the national statistics underscore, this pipeline will become increasingly important in the coming decades. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 600,000 people 65 and older died with Alzheimer’s in 2010. By 2050, the NIH projects, this annual number will reach 1.6 million – 43 percent of all older adult deaths.
Addressing a medical emergency closer to home
As frightening as these national statistics are, the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease are even more pronounced in our own community. It’s no coincidence that so many world-renowned neurobiologists, pathologists, neurologists and other scientists at the institute have gathered here in Orange County.
In our county, Alzheimer’s disease is the third-leading cause of death, while it’s the sixth-leading cause nationwide. More than 84,000 Orange County residents are living with Alzheimer’s, while many more are family members caring for a loved one with the disease.
UCI MIND reaches thousands of people each year with education about research, disease and risk-reducing strategies that everyone should adopt to ensure brain health in later life. Thousands of Orange County residents have been involved in research at the institute.
The dedicated scientific researchers at UCI MIND are focused on eradicating this illness from the world. At the same time, they’re also committed to educating, including and learning from people much closer to home.
You can be part of the solution.