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Is tau protein truly an early marker in detecting Alzheimer’ disease?

Tau protein has served as an early indicator in detecting Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms develop. However, almost all research to develop this theory has been exclusively conducted with a white population. While much research is needed, some evidence is suggesting that African Americans have lower levels of tau in the cerebrospinal fluid when compared to white individuals of similar ages. Past studies have also demonstrated conflicting results, often due to a small sample size. Whether these disease markers also apply to African Americans remains an open question.

A $14.6 million grant to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will support studies to investigate whether early markers of Alzheimer’s that have shown promise for predicting the disease in white populations also predict the disease in African Americans. The researchers also will seek biological and social determinants of health that may explain the possible racial differences in these markers.

The harmonization of clinical and cognitive data across the studies will be led by John Morris, MD, the Harvey A. & Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology and director of the Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center; and Jason Hassenstab, PhD, an associate professor of neurology and the psychometrics leader of the center. The central reprocessing of the samples and scans across the studies will be led by Anne Fagan, PhD, a professor of neurology; and Tammie Benzinger, MD, PhD, a professor of radiology, who lead the Fluid Biomarker Core and Neuroimaging Core of the Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center. The recruitment will be led by Joyce Balls-Berry, PhD, an associate professor of neurology and the leader of the Health Disparities and Equity Core.

Altogether, the effort will include a total of over 1,000 African American participants and will produce adequate statistical power required to assess biologically significant differences that might exist between the markers of Alzheimer’s disease in white participants and those in African American populations.


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