Gary Rosenberg, MD Gary Rosenberg, MD

Taking the Next Step

Federal Grant Enables Launch of New UNM Alzheimer's Disease Research Center

The University of New Mexico has received a three-year $3.1 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to establish an exploratory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center that will provide care and clinical investigation for New Mexico residents with cognitive decline.

The new center – one of four that are joining an existing network of 31 federally funded Alzheimer’s centers – will provide New Mexicans with access to the latest in clinical evaluation, treatment and research for cognitive disorders that will afflict an increasing number of people as the population ages.

“Our exploratory center will prioritize American Indians and other rural and underserved populations in New Mexico,” said Gary Rosenberg, MD, director of the UNM Center for Memory & Aging and the principal investigator on the new grant.

“This will be one of the only Alzheimer’s centers in the Mountain West,” he added.  “Except for one in Arizona, there are none in Colorado, Utah, Texas, and the other states up to the Canadian border. This gives us unique opportunities to improve dementia care in New Mexico and surrounding states.” 

The four new centers represent a significant addition to the existing research network, said Nina Silverberg, PhD, who directs the program at NIA.

“The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers are nationally recognized for excellence on many levels, such as fostering research collaboration, promoting data sharing and open science and providing information and research participation opportunities for people and families most affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias,” Silverberg said. 

“These four new centers mark a strategic expansion that will benefit the research community and our nationwide efforts to improve public health for all Americans, including diverse and historically underserved communities.” 

The UNM group will provide an on-site cognitive assessment clinic and use a mobile magnetic resonance imaging scanner to incorporate cognitive and dementia care for Native Americans who reside in rural areas of New Mexico.

The scanner is operated by the Mind Research Network, which shares quarters on the UNM Health Sciences campus with the Center for Memory & Aging. Once the COVID-19 threat subsides, the study will begin on New Mexico reservations and pueblos with the Mobile On-Site Screening and Testing program. 

The Center will also focus on co-morbid diseases in a partnership with several pueblos established by UNM scientist Vallabh “Raj” Shah, PhD, who has spent a quarter century working with Zuni Pueblo to help mitigate health effects of diabetes and kidney disease. Shah is joining in this new initiative, as these diseases are major contributors to cognitive decline and dementia.

While UNM’s new exploratory center will enhance relationships between the School of Medicine and the state’s American Indian communities, it will also engage those with memory disorders throughout the state to participate in clinical care, treatments and research, Rosenberg said.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center network was established in 1984. NIA – a branch of the National Institutes of Health – funds these centers (and one coordinating center) to translate research advances into improved diagnosis and care for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

This newly awarded grant provides funding for three years to establish and enhance cognitive care and research programs at UNM, Rosenberg said. The plan will be to prepare for the successful competition to transition to a fully established Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center that will serve as a long-term resource for New Mexico.

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