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UNLV Receives $2 Million Grant to Create Biomarker
Observatory for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Feb 26, 2024

UNLV received a $2 million grant from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation to develop a biomarker observatory that will capture and categorize emerging information on blood tests, brain scans, and digital devices to help diagnose and monitor Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, a renowned Alzheimer’s expert and research professor in the UNLV Department of Brain Health, the new biomarker observatory is the first of its kind.

A biomarker is a measure of a disease or a response to treatment. According to Cummings, the newest biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease are blood tests so advanced that they can detect small leaks in the brain, which can then be used for diagnosis and predicting the patient’s course.

“The problem we’ve had in the past is that there hasn’t been a central repository of biomarker information,” said Cummings, who also serves as director of the Chambers-Grundy Center for Transformative Neuroscience in the UNLV School of Integrated Health Sciences.

“We want to create a database that is accessible to every investigator around the world, "he added. “Biomarkers are used for predicting treatment response, as well as prognoses and diagnoses that can give us valuable insight into how the brain responds to treatment. There is enormous information coming out every week on biomarkers.”

The biomarker observatory will be operated in collaboration with UNLV’s Department of Brain Health and the Department of Genomic Medicine of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Organizers anticipate it will launch this spring and be open for public access later this year.

According to Cummings, an estimated 43,000 Nevadans have a form of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Across the U.S., 6.5 million people are symptomatic with dementia in addition to millions of others who are not symptomatic but carry the protein associated with Alzheimer's disease and are at high risk for developing the disease.

Newly FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs like Leqembi, Aduhelm, and other medications are revolutionizing how the disease is treated. The new biomarker observatory will follow the model that Cummings established for tracking the progress of Alzheimer's clinical trials.

Since 2016, he has published an annual report on the state of clinical trials, and in 2021with funding from the National Institute on Aging, created the clinical trials observatory, also at UNLV, in collaboration with the Department of Genomic Medicine of the Cleveland Clinic.

“This biomarker observatory was the next natural step extending the abundance of information we’ve gathered from our clinical trials observatory,” Cummings said. “When you take all of the information we have from the clinical trials observatory, combined with the advancement of Alzheimer’s treatments and a brand-new international database to study these critical biomarkers, it could not be more exciting. These are breakthroughs that will have real meaning for patients.”

The new biomarker observatory will house previously known results based on biomarker information gathered from the clinical trials observatory as well as many types of new biomarker information collected from multiple sources, Cummings said. That information can then be accessed by investigators globally.

“This new biomarker observatory shows that the School of Integrated Health Sciences continues to make incredible strides in neurodegenerative disease research,” saidRonald Brown, dean of UNLV’s School of Integrated Health Sciences. “These exciting developments are critical to the work we are doing in the Department of Brain Health and will go a long way in the fight against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other late-life neurodegenerative conditions.”


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