In aggressive pursuit of its vision of a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia, the Association once again made its largest-ever total annual research investment in FY21: $70 million, including more than $59 million in grants to 253 new scientific investigations. These represent proposals ranked highest by a three-tier peer-review process in a highly competitive field. As the world’s leading nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s and dementia research, the Association is currently investing over $250 million in more than 750 active best-of-field projects in 39 countries.
In response to the challenges and institutional shutdowns that dementia researchers — particularly those early in their careers — have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association launched the Rapid Program in Dementia (RAPID) Funding Grant Program. This opportunity grants up to $50,000 for up to two years to early career researchers who are recipients of an active Association award. RAPID grants provide funds to replace supplies and model systems, support additional staff and address other previously unanticipated needs that are now essential to advancing research. Following an accelerated application and review process, the Association funded 34 projects to help awardees continue their critical work through the pandemic.
The Association collaborated with an anonymous donor to develop the Alzheimer’s Disease Strategic Fund (ADSF), a unique funding model which supports teams of dementia scientists from around the world exploring research areas too complex for individual investigators to take on alone, as well as exciting projects selected through open calls for application. Funded research is focused on the immune system and transport and clearance pathways in the brain. With nearly $12 million awarded, the ADSF powers collaborative, cross-disciplinary science.
Founded in 2012 by Michaela “Mikey” Hoag, the Alzheimer’s Association Part the Cloud innovative grant funding program is a movement to accelerate scientific progress in Alzheimer's research. Funds raised by Part the Cloud have made it possible to award grants to 59 research projects, fueling some of the most promising clinical phase studies in the field.
A partnership between Part the Cloud and Bill Gates — initiated in FY20 and expanded in FY21 — is funding 19 promising high-risk, high-reward research projects focusing on the role of the immune system and inflammation in the brain.
Presented annually to exceptional scientists who have contributed significantly to Alzheimer’s and dementia research, the Alzheimer’s Association Zenith Fellows Awards are among the most prestigious dementia research grants in the world. These awards are made possible by Zenith Society members, whose philanthropic gifts have funded over $44 million in grants to more than 143 leading scientists in the field. FY21 awardees were Kaj Blennow, M.D., Ph.D., University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden; Catherine C. Kaczorowski, Ph.D., The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine; Leonard Petrucelli, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida; and Gil Rabinovici, M.D., University of California, San Francisco.
To address the global public health crisis of dementia, the Association, the Global Brain Health Institute and the Alzheimer’s Society (UK) announced $575,000 in total funding for 23 initial small-scale projects as part of the Pilot Awards for Global Brain Health Leaders. The awards will drive pilot projects that address disparities in dementia diagnosis, treatment and care for vulnerable populations and their families. Recipients span 15 countries across five continents and join a total of 88 pilots in 28 countries.
Building on the momentum of the Imaging Dementia-Evidence for Amyloid Scanning (IDEAS) Study — which showed that positron emission tomography (PET) brain imaging can be a powerful tool to improve the accuracy of Alzheimer’s diagnosis by detecting amyloid buildup — the Association and American College of Radiology announced the next step in this research. With a focus on recruiting Black and Hispanic participants at 350 sites across the United States, the New IDEAS: Imaging Dementia-Evidence for Amyloid Scanning Study aims to demonstrate the diagnostic value of amyloid PET scans among diverse populations that are historically underrepresented in dementia research. The New IDEAS Study is led by the Association, managed by American College of Radiology and advised by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The Association-led U.S. POINTER study shifted to remote engagement to ensure the safety of participants and staff while maintaining its scientific integrity. U.S. POINTER is a first-of-its-kind, two-year clinical trial to evaluate whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors can reduce risk of cognitive decline in older adults. The study has now enrolled more than 1,000 participants, and all five study sites are active and recruiting.
The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®) is the world’s largest and most influential international meeting dedicated to advancing dementia science. Due to the pandemic, AAIC 2020 was offered as a free online conference and attracted a record-breaking numbers: more than 33,000 registered attendees from over 160 countries and more than 3,000 scientific presentations. Groundbreaking research presented included studies on the association between flu and pneumonia vaccination with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s later in life; progress toward the development of blood biomarker tests as a diagnostic tool; early-life factors that may contribute to Alzheimer’s risk; and the disproportionate prevalence of the disease among Hispanic and Latino communities in the United States.
Association-led online meetings continued to offer researchers at every career stage opportunities to share and collaborate. Following the success of the first online AAIC, the Association hosted the inaugural Alzheimer’s Association International Conference Neuroscience Next (AAIC NN), expanding its footprint in the wider neuroscience research community and highlighting work presented by students and early career investigators. More than 5,200 members of the neuroscience community from over 100 countries convened to learn from and support the next generation of researchers.
The Association hosted leading experts for the AAIC Satellite Symposium to explore emerging dementia research in the Mediterranean region. The online conference, based in Athens, Greece, included 23 speakers and 1,531 attendees, and covered topics ranging from lifestyle-related Alzheimer’s risk factors to regional and genetic impacts on dementia risk.
More than 1,400 people attended the Association’s second annual Latinos & Alzheimer’s Symposium, a free online conference to examine disparities in dementia risk, early detection and care in Hispanic/Latino populations.
Collaboration between the Association and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) brought researchers together in innovative ways. The third annual NIA-AA Symposium: Enabling Precision Medicine for Alzheimer’s Disease Through Open Science, presented as part of AAIC 2020, showcased an array of translational dementia research programs to investigate possible causes of Alzheimer’s; identify new targets and biomarkers; develop the next generation animal models for late-stage Alzheimer’s disease; and help advance novel targets into drug discovery.
The Association partnered with the NIA to support the Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Global Symposium, an online event to discuss how discoveries in genetics impact biomarker development and target discovery and validation. Combining a live Q&A session with on-demand webinars, the event drew 1,661 registrants from over 60 countries.
The Association co-hosted the two-day virtual symposium Brain Ageing and Dementia in Low and Middle Income Countries with Newcastle University and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, with support from the NIA. The meeting provided a forum for its 425 attendees to discuss the unique challenges posed by vascular and neurodegenerative diseases in low- and middle-income countries, many of which are predicted to experience disproportionate increases in dementia prevalence in the coming decades.
Supported by NIA sponsorship, the Association hosted a conference advancing health equity research. Promoting Diverse Perspectives: Addressing Health Disparities Related to Alzheimer’s and All Dementias brought together 1,371 attendees from 41 countries for the free online event to explore disparities in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s among underserved and underrepresented communities.
Following the FDA’s historic accelerated approval of the anti-amyloid antibody therapy aducanumab — the first treatment for Alzheimer’s to address the underlying biology of the disease — the Association offered forums for dialogue between researchers and educational programming for the public. The Association led the virtual meeting Dialogue: Current Perspectives on Aducanumab, an open discussion for scientists and clinicians about the clinical trials, science and data behind aducanumab; implications of the FDA label for people living with the disease, the clinical community and payers; and perspectives of people facing Alzheimer’s. The live session was attended by 1,836 participants. The Association also hosted 3,775 constituents online virtually for ALZ Talks: New Advancements in Treatments for Alzheimer’s, an opportunity for the public to learn more about how aducanumab is designed to work, who might be a candidate for the treatment and steps to accessing it.
Clinical research participants are essential for driving dementia science forward. TrialMatch®, the Association’s free service that provides customized lists of clinical studies based on user-provided information, was optimized in FY21 to improve the experience and increase its reach. Now easier to navigate, the enhanced TrialMatch allows users to search for studies without creating an account, choose whether to receive email notifications of new opportunities, and contact research teams directly from the platform. The TrialMatch database has grown to over 750 active studies, including international studies and locations. Each month, the service receives more than 400 visitors, resulting in an average of 300 referrals.
In partnership with GHR Foundation, the Association committed $14 million to Tau Next Generation, an expansion of Washington University’s Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Trials Unit (DIAN-TU). This funding supports the infrastructure to allow the trials unit to evaluate multiple potential treatments at one time, accelerating the studies.
The Alzheimer’s Association Research Roundtable engages scientists from the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostics, imaging and cognitive testing industries worldwide in a precompetitive platform to discuss key areas in Alzheimer’s science, with a mission of advancing the research, development and management of new treatments for the disease. Both the fall 2020 meeting, “Decision Making in Clinical Trials: Interim Analyses, Innovative Design, and Biomarkers,” and the spring 2021 meeting, “Operationalizing Selection Criteria for Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s Disease: Biomarker and Clinical Considerations (Part 1 of 2),” were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Research Roundtable grew to 23 member companies in FY21.
For the sixth year, the Alzheimer’s Association Business Consortium (AABC) continued to advance Alzheimer’s and dementia research through innovation by small, startup biotechnology, diagnostic and contract research organizations. The AABC works to achieve its mission by focusing on areas of common interest to advance the field as well as the member companies’ goals.
The Alzheimer’s Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment (ISTAART) is the leading professional society for those interested in Alzheimer’s and dementia science, and includes scientists, physicians and other professionals in the field. By the end of FY21, ISTAART comprised 4,158 members and experienced remarkable growth in year-round engagement with members. The number of professional interest areas (PIAs) — subgroups of researchers who share common scientific interests — grew to 27, and now includes the Elevate Early Career Researchers (PEERS) PIA, which aims to foster, develop and support early career dementia scientists in every corner of the world. PIAs engaged with their members through 52 webinars, as well as a variety of other conference sessions, publications and collaborations.
Alzheimer’s & Dementia®: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the leading peer-reviewed monthly scientific journal in Alzheimer’s and dementia, aims to bridge the knowledge gaps across a wide range of bench-to-bedside investigation in the field. The publication’s impact factor — a measure of its influence in the scientific community — increased three points to 21.566. The flagship journal is the top-ranked disease-specific journal in Clinical Neurology and ranked fourth overall. Two open-access companion journals — Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring and Translational Research & Clinical Interventions — also saw continued growth, with Cite Scores (a measure of how many times another researcher references a publication’s articles) of 6.1 and 7.8, respectively.
The Association and scientific leaders and representatives from more than 25 countries formed an international, multidisciplinary consortium to better understand the long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the brain. The Alzheimer's Association International Cohort Study of Chronic Neurological Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 will investigate COVID-19’s impact on cognition and function, including underlying biology that may contribute to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
The Association announced a collaboration with the International Brain Bee (IBB) to inspire students to pursue careers in neuroscience or medicine so they can help treat and find cures for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., the Association's chief science officer, was appointed to the IBB Board of Directors to help guide the nonprofit’s strategy, direction and policies, including greater inclusion of dementia science.