Duke and UNC Multidisciplinary Team Awarded $25.3 Million to Study Alzheimer’s Disease

Brown, Hotz, and Duke
Tyson H. Brown, Associate Professor of Sociology; V. Joseph Hotz, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Economics; Dr. Naomi Nichele Duke, MD, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Sociology

V. Joseph Hotz, Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor of Economics, Tyson Brown, WLF Associate Professor of Sociology and Naomi N. Duke, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Sociology are part of a team of researchers that have received a five-year, $25.3 million National Institute on Aging (NIA) award. The award will address gaps in the understanding of potential risks for Alzheimer’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementias (AD/ADRD). Hotz, Duke and Kathleen Mullan Harris and Krista M. Perreira at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) lead the team.

Alzheimer’s is currently ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. However, there are gaps in our understanding of risk and protective factors across racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic status.

The recently awarded grant is an extension of the Add Health Parent Study (AHPS), an ongoing research initiative focused on comprehending the multifaceted interplay between social, behavioral and biological elements shaping healthy aging versus the emergence of Alzheimer's Disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD).

The Study’s participants  are a nationally representative cohort from the baby boomer generation, currently in their late 60s and 70s. The AHPS cohort comprises individuals who are parents of adult children participating in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), whose journey has been meticulously documented for over 25 years, tracing back to their adolescent years.

Collaboratively spearheaded by investigators from both the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Duke and other universities from across the country, this new grant will increase the representation of Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic parents within the AHPS cohort, to establish connections with longitudinal data encompassing their adult children. This expansion will open doors to intergenerational research and shed light on the landscape of racial and ethnic disparities in cognitive aging and the susceptibility to AD/ADRD.

“We know too little about the intergenerational linkages of social, economic and behavioral factors that heighten the risk of Alzheimer's Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease Related Dementias and how they differ across racial/ethnic groups,” said Hotz, one of the lead investigators in the grant. “This study is designed to address these gaps in our knowledge.”

Hotz’s past research has been at the intersection of population and labor economics. At Duke, his expertise will be paired with that of Brown, whose research focuses on racial inequities in health, and that of  Duke, whose research examines the relevance of childhood social context for later disparities in health outcomes and the intergenerational transmission of health . “I’m thrilled to be part of this innovative collaborative project — that draws on the expertise of scholars across academic disciplines and universities — to help understand and address pressing issues related to improving population health and health equity,” said Brown.

The interdisciplinary nature of the proposal as well as the collaborative efforts of Duke University and UNC will contribute significantly to our understanding of these extremely debilitating health issues that affect a wide spectrum of older Americans and their families.

“The collaboration of researchers across Duke Campuses, including the School of Medicine and the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, offers a unique opportunity to support excellence in research focused on understanding population-level factors that impact health and the transmission of health and health disparities across generations,” said  Duke, who joins Hotz as a lead investigator in the grant.

This award is funded by NIA grant R01AG084071 and the Add Health Parent Study has been supported by NIA grants R01AG042794, R21AG042663, and P30AG034424 that funds the Duke Center for Population Health & Aging.

Content adapted from UNC's press release