by Julie Cleveland
Much of Alzheimer's disease (AD) research is funded by multi-year grants from federal agencies such as the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute on Mental Health. However, to receive these federal grants researchers need to have well-developed proposals that include preliminary investigations and provide evidence that justifies the expense of a large multi-year research study.
Researchers with new ideas that have not been previously studied, or who do not have known results, must look to foundations and other organizations for funds to conduct exploratory or preliminary research. Often this exploratory work leads to exciting and important new avenues of investigation.
One organization that has provided such support to the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) is the Fraternal Order of the Eagles. Since the ADRC began in 1992, the Eagles has donated over $60,000 to provide researchers the initial funding they need to study new ideas and launch their research careers.
The Eagles is a nonprofit group which raises money for community charities through activities such as auctions, dinners, garage sales and raffles. It is broken up into local area chapters, called "Aries," which are made up of volunteers who care about their community and about issues affecting that community.
Each year, each chapter of Eagles chooses a focus for its fund raising activities. In 1998 the South Tacoma and Auburn Aries selected ADRC researchers as their beneficiaries. Kelly Freer, 1998 president of the South Tacoma Arie, said she chose AD as their chapter's focus because "my grandmother died of Alzheimer's disease. She was diagnosed in 1980, and back then not much was known about the disease."
The Eagles hope that raising money for AD research will increase knowledge and awareness about AD. Their motto for the fundraising campaign was: "Remember those who can't remember." Donald Lewis Stevenson of the Auburn Arie has launched a personal crusade against AD. Last summer, at the age of 62, he walked 3,000 miles from Washington state to Maine to raise awareness and money for AD. This summer he is planning to walk to lighthouses along the Washington coast, a trek of over 500 miles. Stevenson's goal is to raise $100,000 for AD research so that someday Alzheimer's disease will be as rare as polio in the United States.
This year, the ADRC researchers who received Eagles grant are Drs. Rebecca Logsdon, Inez Vincent and Lee-Way Jin.
Dr. Logsdon received funding from the South Tacoma Arie to evaluate safety problems experienced by people with Alzheimer's disease who are living at home. There are three main safety issues that occur with AD, each at different stages: 1) driving (early stage); 2) wandering (middle stage); and 3) home safety (later stage). Logsdon's study will survey caregivers to identify the most common safety problems, and help determine what interventions caregivers currently use to ensure the safety of the person for whom they are responsible. Logsdon hopes that research about safety will help identify strategies caregivers can use to improve safety, and enable people with AD to achieve a balance between independence and safety.
Dr. Vincent also received funding from the South Tacoma Arie. She will study the brain tissue of people who have died from Alzheimer's disease, and identify changes that occur in the brain as a result of this disease. Vincent states that studying brain tissue is a critical aspect of research, and hopes that this research will help identify changes that occur in the brain at various stages of AD. The ultimate goal of this research is to develop strategies to diagnose AD earlier, and to prevent brain cell deterioration and death.
Dr. Jin received funding from the Auburn Arie to define the cellular conditions for neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) formation in the brain, and thereby help design a strategy to prevent it. Neurofibrillary tangles and neuritic plaques are the two major brain lesions involved in Alzheimer's disease. Scientists still do not know which lesion is more important in terms of the cause of the disease. However, the presence of NFT in a portion of the brain called the entorhinal cortex appears to be the earliest lesion in AD, before the presence of neuritic plaques. The entorhinal cortex is an important structure for memory, which is progressively and severely impaired in patients with AD. Jin hopes his study on the abnormal cellular and molecular processes leading to NFT formation may yield information useful for the prevention and treatment of AD.
For more information on the Eagles write Eagles Grand Arie, PO Box 25916, Milwaukee, WI, 53225-0916. For more information on Donald Lewis Stevenson's "Walk to the Light for Victims of Alzheimer's Disease" write the Alzheimer's Association, 12721 30th Avenue NE, Suite 101, Seattle, WA, 98125; or call 1-800-848-7097 or 206-363-5500.
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