CINCINNATI — For centuries, researchers tried to find the cure or prevention for Alzheimer’s and dementia, and understand why these diseases are more prevalent in certain populations.
University of Cincinnati Professor of Neurology Dr. Hyacinth I. Hyacinth has always been drawn to researching stroke, cognitive impairment and dementia. That’s because through his research, he’s found these diseases disproportionately affect the African American community more than European ones.
He’s furthering his research as he leads a study looking at biological differences among racial groups and the factors that contribute to higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
“Looking at the MRI images and basically identifying from those image,s what we call brain small vessel disease changes,” said Hyacinth. “The technical term is cerebral small vessel disease.”
Cerebral small blood vessels supply nutrients and oxygen to different parts of the brain. But the small blood vessels can develop into cerebral small vessel disease, causing tiny strokes and becoming a contributing factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“We’re looking at the changes in the brain that we attribute to these vessels,” he said.
Through his research, Hyacinth and his team found African Americans are nearly two times more likely to be diagnosed with cognitive impairment and dementia than other populations. They are two-and-half-times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Because of this disparity, he said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing the disease. However, he said factors like cerebral small vessel disease is preventable.
This case study is a part of a larger one called the REGARDS Study, also known as the reasons for geographic and racial differences in stroke. Hyacinth will work with between 1,800 to 2,200 patients across the southern part of the country and analyze their MRIs in hopes of learning more about these disparities and how to overcome them. The National Institute on Aging helped fund this study with a $1.5 million grant.
“If we can demonstrate that there is some biology behind these racial disparities and cognitive impairment and dementia, then that becomes a potential target for therapy,” he said.