AHA Announces Funding for New Center for Brain Health and Dementia at Boston University

August 6, 2020

Through a joint initiative with Bill Gates, a $3.3 million funding influx will go toward the Strategically Focused Research Network on Health Technologies and Innovation program’s fifth network center.

Mitch Elkind, MD, MS

According to an announcement by the American Heart Association (AHA), a partnership with Bill Gates has granted the organization a $3.3 million pledge in funding a joint initiative toward the advancement of scientific research into brain health and dementia. Of that funding, a $2.8 million grant will go to a new technology research center at Boston University.1

The AHA also noted that the remaining funds will support global networking efforts to allow for more collective approaches to accelerate the development of early detection methods and treatments for Alzheimer disease and related dementias. This commitment follows a $14 million total in grants announced earlier this year.2

“Cardiovascular risks are closely associated with cognitive impairment and dementia, so as we strive to reduce these risks, it stands to reason that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. This is encouraging as it means it may be possible to maintain brain health and to prevent dementia in later life,” said Mitch Elkind, MD, MS, FAHA, FAAN, president, AHA, and professor of neurology and epidemiology, Columbia University, in a statement.

The initiative is part of a recently launched program with the AHA called the Strategically Focused Research Network on Health Technologies and Innovation, which opened its first 4 centers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University School of Medicine, and the University of Michigan in April 2020.2 The initiative will additionally grant $500,000 to support the efforts of all 5 centers in a collaborative project to enhance the sharing of data through interoperable technology platforms—the advances the AHA hopes will “streamline and fast-track solutions to patient care and treatment.”

This new center will be headed up a multidisciplinary team of researchers, selected to establish the fifth research site, led by Rhoda Au, PhD, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine. The work will center new technology to better identify and measure early health behaviors that can impact brain health, as well as the use of advanced computational and artificial intelligence analytics for at-risk patient detection. Passive data-collection technology—which needs minimal action on the part of the participant—is a leading aim of the group, in an attempt to help fix the pitfalls of costly wearable health technology.

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“The implications of this collaboration not only involve sharing of vital data, reducing unnecessary time and replication in research for earlier detection of neurodegenerative diseases, but also allow us to take a closer look at the associations between these diseases and cardiovascular diseases.” said Rafael C. Jiminez, PhD, head, Research Informatics, Alzheimer’s Research UK, in a statement. “We believe health technology offers new windows into earlier detection and eventual prevention of dementia.”

The Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Early Detection of Neurodegeneration (EDoN) database will receive the findings as part of the global initiative. Jiminez noted that his organization welcomes the chance to collaborate to help accelerate data sharing and discovery.

This is not the first such initiative that Gates and his foundation have been a part of this year, with the global philanthropist and technology visionary joining the likes of Leonard A. Lauder, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Dolby family, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and others, in committing $50 million to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation’s Diagnostics Accelerator program. Similarly, it is aimed at speeding up the development of biomarkers for early detection of Alzheimer and related dementias.3

“We are excited to enter this collaboration with Bill Gates as we look to harness the momentum of increasingly sophisticated, yet user-friendly technology that can lead to breakthrough solutions to the mysteries of the heart and brain connection, furthering our commitment to advancing the science of brain health,” Elkind said.

REFERENCES

1. New $3.3 million research investment focuses on health tech solutions for brain health and dementia [press release]. Dallas, TX. AHA. Published July 31, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. newsroom.heart.org/news/new-3-3-million-research-investment-focuses-on-health-tech-solutions-for-brain-health-and-dementia.

2. More than $14 million in research grants awarded for health technology solutions focused on heart and brain health, including special projects related to COVID-19 and CVD [press release]. Dallas, TX. AHA. Published April 2, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. newsroom.heart.org/news/more-than-14-million-in-research-grants-awarded-for-health-technology-solutions-focused-on-heart-and-brain-health-including-special-projects-related-to-covid-19-and-cvd.

3. ALZHEIMER’S DRUG DISCOVERY FOUNDATION’S DIAGNOSTICS ACCELERATOR ANNOUNCES FIRST DIGITAL BIOMARKER RESEARCH AWARD AND DATA SHARING PLATFORM [press release]. New York, NY: ADDF; Published April 29, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. alzdiscovery.org/news-room/announcements/ADDF-diagnostics-accelerator-first-digital-biomarker-research-award