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NIA awards $2.9 million to Wig Lab to further Alzheimer’s disease study

Gagan Wig, PhD, director of the Wig Neuroimaging Lab at the Center for Vital Longevity and associate professor for the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas, was awarded a $2.9 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to investigate relationships between socioeconomic status (SES) and the brain. The new study will focus on identifying individual risk factors and their link to brain networks in lower-socioeconomic status middle-age adults that might be predictive of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in older age. 

Dr. Wig, the principal investigator for the study, notes that the research will look at several variables that are impacted by an individual’s SES and their environments, including access to healthcare and healthy food, exercise, sleep, education, occupation, stress levels, and mental stimulation. Through a better understanding of how these health and lifestyle variables impact the brain in middle age, the lab hopes to identify risk factors, in addition to genetics, that predict AD.

“We found in our 2018 study that lower SES is associated with less organized brain networks, which we know relates to poor memory, and that there is individual variation in this risk,” Dr. Wig said. “In the new study, we will examine more closely this individual variation by tracking individual brain networks and AD genetic risk in lower-to-middle SES middle-age adults (40-65 years), along with changes in measures of health, environment, and lifestyles. This segment of the population is at higher risk for cognitive decline and AD, yet have been largely understudied in brain research. Our goal is to identify the critical features of an individual’s environment that lead to brain and cognitive decline. Doing so could also help us understand why some people age relatively gracefully while others are more vulnerable to rapid age-related decline and dementia.”

The study will track approximately 150 middle-age participants over 4 years. The NIA award was announced in the fall of 2019 and the study hopes to begin enrolling participants in the spring of 2020.

The Wig Neuroimaging Lab is one of seven labs belonging to the Center for Vital Longevity, a UT Dallas research center that is dedicated to pursuing research that will lead to improved cognitive health and well-being for life.