Gary Rosenberg, MD

The University of New Mexico Memory & Aging Center has received two federal research grants that could lead to faster diagnosis and new treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently issued an award for $1.3 million to explore the role of white matter in dementia and Alzheimer's disease. White matter is specialized tissue that plays an important role in brain function, says center director Gary Rosenberg, MD, a professor in the UNM Department of Neurology.

Prior research has shown that white matter abnormalities are linked to dementia. The goal is to understand how changes in white matter can inform and possibly predict the trajectory of Alzheimer's disease.

“This is a unique opportunity for UNM to be at the forefront on research in dementia,” Rosenberg says.

The Memory & Aging Center also received a five-year $5 million grant from the NIH to join a university consortium studying vascular cognitive impairment dementia – or VCI.

The second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s – and sharing many of the same symptoms – VCI is caused by restricted blood flow to the brain, which causes cell death.

The consortium, which includes the University of California, San Francisco, University of California, Davis, University of Southern California, University of Kentucky, Rush Medical College and Boston University, will be coordinated by Harvard University, will work to develop biomarkers to diagnose VCI and conduct drug trials to address the condition.

Rosenberg’s team will focus on two imaging biomarkers: diffusion tensor imaging and free connectivity. They will also determine the optimal method for measuring molecules called matrix metalloproteinases, which Rosenberg has shown are implicated in white matter damage.

The Memory & Aging Center, based in Pete and Nancy Domenici Hall, opened its doors earlier this year. It has space for bench science, a clinical research area where patients can be seen and access to an MRI scanner belonging to the Mind Research Network, which shares the building.