As the population ages, a large segment of society will be affected over the next decade with Alzheimer’s disease and various related dementias, according to Janet Robishaw, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research and chair of the department of biomedical sciences in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.
In response to the growing burden this will place on families, caregivers, and the economy as a whole, the College of Medicine is launching the FAU Center for Brain Health to support basic research, clinical care, education and outreach for Alzheimer’s disease and various related dementias, with support from The Harry T. Mangurian, Jr. Foundation.
Robishaw will lead the initiative, which will bring a clinical component to dementia research at FAU. Little can be done to treat patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so efforts will focus on identifying who’s at risk of developing the condition, and designing personalized prevention strategies to delay or possibly prevent its onset.
The center will adopt a model called the “learning healthcare system.” In this model, research is embedded in the clinical care of patients, whereby their health data — with their consent — drives new research. The system works on a bidirectional, continuous cycle. Patients are entered in a research study, then their genomes are sequenced, and their genetic background, family history and lifestyle are entered into their health records.
This provides two benefits: patients’ data are used to develop individualized treatment plans, while also serving as an important resource for researchers. “What we were really missing here at the College of Medicine was the clinical component. Without the patients you can do a lot of basic science research, but it’s like doing it missing one hand,” Robishaw said.
The College of Medicine has also developed a certificate program in genomics and predictive health, slated to graduate the first group in May 2021. According to Robishaw, the college will develop the certificate into a doctoral program, enlarging FAU’s fight against Alzheimer’s by educating the next generation of physicians, researchers and patients.