Seton, Dell Medical School partner up to tackle Alzheimer’s disease


Collaboration aimed at long-term Alzheimer’s genetics, biomarkers study

Imagine being able to take a blood test that detects your risks of developing Alzheimer’s, and then getting a pill to prevent the disease from ever taking hold of your brain. A statewide partnership between seeks to make that vision a reality one day.

Seton Healthcare Family and Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin have received a one-year grant from the Texas Council on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders to participate in a multi-site research program, called the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium (TARCC). The grant is eligible for renewal for up to four additional years. The Consortium consists of seven state medical research institutions, all working together to root out the causes of this debilitating disease — and ways to prevent it. Participating institutions include: Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, University of North Texas Health Science Center, University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

“By studying people with and without these genes and biomarkers, we hope to better understand what makes someone more susceptible to developing cognitive problems,” said study co-principal investigator and neurologist John Bertelson, MD, of Seton Brain and Spine Institute. Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.

This project was supported by funding provided to TARCC by the Darrell K. Royal Texas Alzheimer’s Intitiative, directed by the Texas Council on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. The first year of the grant awards Seton and Dell Med $800,000 to enroll 100 participants as part of the longitudinal observational study. Participants will undergo memory and blood testing. Researchers will use the results to analyze participants’ DNA and to detect potential biomarkers that may be linked to dementia.

A potential model for transforming behavioral care

The grant will also help Seton and Dell Med develop new models to identify and care for patients in the community in different stages of cognitive decline. In this, the study could spur new strategies for integrated care, helping transition from a fee-for-service system focused on providers and procedures to a value-based approach focused on patients and their health.

“This study will serve as a foundation for discovering ways to promote brain health and prevent progressive intellectual decline in this population,” said study principal investigator David Paydarfar, MD, neurology chair at Dell Medical School. “Hopefully, we can identify and start caring for Alzheimer’s patients much earlier on, so they don’t end up in the emergency department in crisis.”

A study with global perspective

The study also seeks to maintain a centralized database of information about Alzheimer’s and potential triggers that can be accessed by researchers from around the world.

“Scientists studying mild cognitive impairment and other risk factors would have access to these DNA samples,” Paydarfar said. “The TARCC study has a potentially huge global scope, and it’s exciting to think of a world-wide effort to investigate Alzheimer’s and the causes behind dementia.”

If you’re interested in enrolling in the study, call Alyssa Aguirre at 512-495-5236 or email her at Study participants need not have any memory loss symptoms.