The American Heart Association — the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to a world of longer, healthier lives — and global philanthropist and technology visionary Bill Gates, have committed to advancing the scientific evidence base related to brain health and dementia by funding a $3.3 million health technology research joint initiative. The project will specifically fund a new brain health and dementia technology research center at Boston University. Additionally, it will support the global exchange of research data to help scientists around the world collectively work in accelerating new discoveries related to heart and brain health, including the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
“Cardiovascular risks are closely associated with cognitive impairment and dementia, so as we strive to reduce these risks, it stands to reason that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. This is encouraging as it means it may be possible to maintain brain health and to prevent dementia in later life,” said Mitch Elkind, M.D., M.S., FAHA, FAAN, president of the American Heart Association and professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City. “We are excited to enter this collaboration with Bill Gates as we look to harness the momentum of increasingly sophisticated, yet user-friendly technology that can lead to breakthrough solutions to the mysteries of the heart and brain connection, furthering our commitment to advancing the science of brain health.”
The new initiative is part of the Association’s Strategically Focused Research Network on Health Technologies and Innovation, first launched with four centers in April. A multidisciplinary team of researchers at Boston University has been selected to establish the fifth research site, a brain health and dementia technology research center, funded by a $2.8 million grant from Bill Gates and the American Heart Association.
Led by Rhoda Au, Ph.D., a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine, the new team will focus their work on the connections of heart and brain health, specifically in the areas of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They will work on new technology to better identify and track early health behaviors that can affect brain health and lead to chronic diseases, use advanced computational and artificial intelligence analytics to more specifically determine who is at risk for those diseases and ultimately find ways to prevent the behaviors or triggers that lead to them. One major aim is to use passive data-collection technology, requiring minimal action on the part of the participant, to be more sustainable over time. This can be especially beneficial in historically excluded populations that often don’t have the means for costly wearable health technology.
In addition to the new research center, the joint initiative will also provide $500,000 to support efforts of all five centers in a collaborative project to enhance how research data is shared through interoperable technology platforms, advances that could ultimately streamline and fast-track solutions to patient care and treatment.
Findings from this joint research project will be added to the database of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Early Detection of Neurodegeneration (EDoN). Through this global initiative, scientists from around the world are collecting, sharing and analyzing clinical and digital health data to detect diseases like Alzheimer’s in the brain years before the symptoms of dementia start. More than 5.7 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s, one of the most common forms of dementia, and that number is expected to nearly triple by 2050.
“The implications of this collaboration not only involve sharing of vital data, reducing unnecessary time and replication in research for earlier detection of neurodegenerative diseases, but also allow us to take a closer look at the associations between these diseases and cardiovascular diseases.” said Rafael C. Jiminez, Ph.D., head of Research Informatics at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “We believe health technology offers new windows into earlier detection and eventual prevention of dementia. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the additional network of researchers in the American Heart Association’s program to help accelerate data sharing and scientific discovery.”
“Being part of the EDoN collaborative is an incredible step in ensuring the American Heart Association can have a global impact on longer, healthier lives for all,” said Elkind, who is also attending neurologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
The research project was initiated on July 1, 2020 and is funded through four years.
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The American Heart Association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The Association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations and health insurance providers are available at https://www.heart.org/en/about-us/aha-financial-information.
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