Science & Tech

Seeking an Alzheimer’s Cure
Brown establishes a new Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research.

By Christina Paxson / September–October 2021
August 18th, 2021

Over the past year and a half, we have all focused on the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But this is not the only serious health issue facing our nation and our world. In the last quarter of the 20th century, as life expectancy has increased and the world’s population has aged, a rapidly growing number of people are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. This health crisis, although more slow- moving than COVID-19, has devastating consequences for more families every year.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 6 million people in this country are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and by 2050, that number is expected to more than double. As a leading research university, Brown strives to address society’s most pressing issues and contribute solutions to complex 21st century challenges with a relentless focus on the greater good. It is with this mission in mind that Brown recently established a new Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research. 

The center will build on Brown’s existing strengths in this research field, bringing together the expertise of scientists and physicians at Brown’s Division of Biology and Medicine, home to the Warren Alpert Medical School, and Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science.

We have a robust foundation in place. With faculty research fueled by federal funding, Brown ranks among the top 20 universities in the nation for research on Alzheimer’s. The next logical step to advance this progress is to integrate scientific and clinical work together to fuel breakthroughs that change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Generous gifts from two anonymous donors as part of the University’s BrownTogether campaign have made this project possible and mark major progress toward our initial fundraising goal of $50 million for the center.

More than 6 million people in this country are living with Alzheimer’s, and by 2050, that number is expected to double.

This is truly a transformative moment for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research at Brown. Through bringing aboard new scholars, investing in facilities, and creating the infrastructure to connect the incredible work already happening in our labs and clinical settings, our goal is to accelerate development toward novel treatments and cures in the fight against this destructive disease.

For example, Dr. Stephen Salloway, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Brown who is also a leading expert on key Alzheimer’s studies, has noted that a holy grail in Alzheimer’s research is a simple, effective, widely available blood test for early detection of the disease. Such a test would allow for identifying patients who are predisposed to the disease so treatments can be administered as early as possible. 

Diane Lipscombe, a professor of neuroscience who leads the Carney Institute, will serve as the initial director of the new center, and we are planning for the eventual recruitment of a full-time leader. In her tenure directing the Carney Institute since 2016, Diane has seen scholars make significant advances working in a collaborative cross-disciplinary environment, and she now hopes to create a similar framework for scholars to interact with clinical researchers in Brown’s affiliated hospitals. Brown will also recruit key faculty in bioinformatics and neuroimmunology, two areas that will complement existing Brown expertise in biomed and brain science.

As Diane recently reflected on what’s to come for Brown’s Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research, she noted, “When there’s a common drive to make an impact among so many talented experts across fields, that’s when you have enormous potential to really change the trajectory of this disease.” 

We can all be proud that Brown will be part of the solution to addressing Alzheimer’s disease. In the years to come, I look forward to updating the Brown community on our progress.

Read the September–October 2021 President's Spread on Investments in Faculty Talent Build Excellence here (PDF)

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Related Issue
September–October 2021