NIH Awards Grant to Cleveland Clinic, UNLV to Expand Neurodegeneration Research, Support Young Investigators

SAP Partner | <b>Cleveland Clinic</b>

The newly awarded grant will build upon the efforts of phase 1, the foundation of a research infrastructure, which consisted of several different innovative projects aimed at understanding commonalities of neurodegenerative disorders.

Recently, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $11.3 million grant to continue funding a collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) dedicated to enhancing neuroscience research infrastructure.1

The grant will fund phase 2 of southern Nevada’s first Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award, continuing to build on the efforts of their shared Center for Neurodegeneration and Translational Neuroscience (CNTN). They plan on establishing this research infrastructure through basic and clinical research, all while supporting junior investigators interested in developing innovative approaches that help improve the understanding of neurodegenerative disorders.

Building upon the efforts of phase 1, phase 2 of the CNTN will focus on developing the resources and processes necessary to achieve long-term sustainability, which includes:

  • Fostering infrastructure development
  • Developing biomarker, imaging and clinical research opportunities
  • Growing careers of CNTN investigators
  • Stimulating research productivity
  • Launching a pilot project program

The phase 2 award is led by Aaron Ritter, MD, of the Lou Ruvo Center, and Jefferson Kinney, PhD, of UNLV. Kinney told NeurologyLive® that phase 1 was a "remarkable success," adding that “not only were we able to build this infrastructure, which had a number of good findings and great publications, but also the development of a well-characterized cohort of patients that we’re able to follow longitudinally. That will continue now in phase 2."

Kinney, the founding chair of the department of brain health in the School of Integrated Health Sciences at UNLV, will continue to maintain that cohort with his team, but will add 2 new core resources to enhance research capability. They include an imaging core aspect and expansion of biomarker discovery, which have been a critical aspect of understanding and evaluating neurodegeneration. Phase 2 will look to address some of the questions surrounding the value of certain biomarkers, considering there is no clinically approved diagnostic biomarker for patients with Alzheimer disease (AD).

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"If you detect [AD] earlier, interventions become more available and there’s a lot of things you can do," Kinney said. "We’re working with a number of ones that are showing up from several other groups, but we also have a couple of homegrown novel biomarkers that we’re evaluating in this project as well. The hope is that one or more, likely some assembly of a few of these biomarkers, can get to being diagnostically accurate, but also useful to evaluate whether or not a treatment is having an effect in clinical trials."

In addition to leaders who have discrete research projects, the newly integrated pilot program will provide an opportunity for researchers that aren’t part of the center to capitalize on the resources available from the center and continue to ask questions. Researchers at UNLV and at the Lou Ruvo Center will be able to apply for a pilot award, which includes a year of funding to get their project underway. They then become collaborators and part of the network, thus further building out the overall neuroscience research infrastructure.

One of the major focuses of phase 1 included evaluating health disparities. Samantha E. John, PhD, an assistant professor and faculty member at UNLV, will lead a specific project that addresses the questions of these differences in AD. "There are racial and ethnic differences in incidence, progression, and age of onset. It’s understudied, and we all recognize that this needs to be looked at," Kinney said. "Her project is geared towards understanding what these differences are and how they can be addressed."

Looking forward, Kinney believes that this COBRE award model can be a beacon of hope and success for neuroscience research. “This is a grant that is a tremendously good example of an interdisciplinary collaborative research team. We have clinicians, neuropsychologists, imaging experts, and cell and molecular folks like myself,” He stated. "We run across the entire range of capabilities, but when our efforts get pointed in the same direction, we managed to develop a strong research program. The interdisciplinary research theme is what succeeds. This is where great discoveries are coming from."

REFERENCE
1. NIH Awards $11.3 million grant to continue funding center for neurodegeneration and translational neuroscience in southern Nevada. News release. Cleveland Clinic. February 17, 2022. https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2022/02/17/nih-awards-11-3-million-grant-to-continue-funding-center-for-neurodegeneration-and-translational-neuroscience-in-southern-nevada/