Scientists from the Univ. of Pittsburgh, Rush University Medical Center, Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Miami and UT Dallas meeting in Hyderabad, India.

Investigators Present Cognition Research to Counterparts in India

Center scientists attended a three-day conference in February sponsored by the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum, established between India and the United States to promote bilateral collaborations in science, technology, engineering and biomedical research. 

Dr. Dallas Anderson, program administrator for the Dementias of Aging Branch of the National Institute on Aging, spoke about the NIH’s perspective on global collaborations in neuroscience and cognition to an international gathering at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Center Co-director Dr. Denise Park gave a keynote address on the topic of cognitive reserve and presented a series of findings from the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study. Park described how many healthy, active older adults have some brain degradation in the form of white matter lesions or amyloid protein, but continue to function at the highest levels in their daily lives due to the ability of the brain to compensate for these subtle problems.

CVL postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Sara Haber, presented findings on cognitive enhancement that have emerged from the Synapse Project. While older adults are often encouraged to stay active and engaged to keep their minds sharp, the Synapse project is one of the first studies to demonstrate that learning challenging new tasks that stretched participants’ minds enhanced cognitive function. Social activities alone were not enough and had no impact on cognitive function. Only learning a mentally demanding new skill such as digital photography or a new language, are likely to improve cognitive functioning and build neural scaffolding.

“With India’s burgeoning elderly population and as one of the most populous nations in the world, second only to China, there is great concern about increasing research on Alzhiemer’s disease and cognitive function. As a result of this, a team of neurologists led by Dr. Suvarna Alladi invited a group of senior scientists from the United States to meet with them to help move forward a major research effort on Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Park. She noted that many people in India speak three or more languages and Dr. Alladi and colleagues had recently reported in JAMA Neurology that this multilingualism was associated with slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Much of the conference focused on how different environmental and lifestyle factors might confer some protection from Alzheimer’s disease. In line with this approach, Dr. David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago discussed his findings from studies of nuns in religious orders that have allowed his team to isolate genetic and environmental risk factors that are associated with cognitive decline. 

Dr. Haber noted that “the conference was a unique opportunity for me to meet and engage with leading scientists in India  who are as deeply involved in studying the aging brain. All of us learned a great deal about both similarities and differences in research endeavors as well as clinical approaches to Alzheimer’s disease.”

The scientists attending the meeting met extensively with Dr. H.B. Singh, chief scientist and secretary of India’s Dept. of Science and Technology, who is marshaling resources at scientific centers in India to conduct aging studies, as well as put in place an infrastructure that could counter the so-called “silver tsunami” that populous countries with big elderly populations such as India may face. Dr. Singh is committed to furthering research efforts in India on aging and Alzheimer’s disease with collaborations and further meetings planned for the future.