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2018 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AARF-D)

AD Genetic Risk Factors and Cognitive Decline in African Americans

Do specific genes increase risk of African-Americans in developing Alzheimer’s-related brain changes?

Kacie Deters, Ph.D.
Stanford University
Palo Alto, CA - United States


Many studies are working to identify genes that may increase an individual’s risk for Alzheimer’s. To enhance our understanding of changes in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and to be able to accurately predict risk of impairment an individual may experience, it is imperative to study Alzheimer’s risk factors in diverse populations.

Past studies suggest the genes APOE and TOMM40 ‘523 interact to promote Alzheimer’s risk in both African Americans and Caucasians. How these genes associate with cognitive decline and how they impact on brain changes have predominantly been studied in Caucasians. Since African-Americans 2x greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s, research should investigate whether these genes also associate with increased risk amongst African-Americans. Preliminary research suggests dementia risk could be affected by different variants or combinations of these genes. By studying these differences in greater detail, scientists might hold the key to establishing a key contributor to disease susceptibility in African Americans.

Research Plan

Dr. Kacie Deters and colleagues will study how different variations of the risk genes TOMM40 '523 and APOE work together to affect dementia risk in African-Americans. The researchers will use genetic, neurological, and cognitive data from Rush University in Chicago taken from clinically normal older African-Americans and Caucasians. The research team will compare how the genes affect other factors linked to dementia – such as loss of brain volume and damage to white matter (the brain's wiring system) - in their participants. This study will provide new information on how factors thought to increase risk, impact African Americans and at what level they may play a role in risk.


The results of this study will help clarify our understanding of how genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease manifests itself in an under-researched population. Identifying the risk factors will help in designing combination of drugs and lifestyle, which can be achieved by creating additional large-scale research trials in diverse populations.

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