Developing and Diversifying Alzheimer’s Disease Research Professionals: IMPACT-AD

Developing and Diversifying Alzheimer’s Disease Research Professionals IMPACT-AD

A USC professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine teamed with a professor of psychiatry at University of California, Irvine to launch an innovative new program to diversity the next generation of scientists and research teams leading Alzheimer’s and related dementia clinical research. Securing a total of $4 million ($1.5m from the U.S. National Institute on Aging and $2.5m from the Alzheimer’s Association), the IMPACT-AD program centers on the diversification of the study team (principal investigator, coordinator, etc.) to reflect the diversity of the population at large facing the specter of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Specter of Alzheimer’s Disease

TrialSite has emphasized the horrific nature of this neurodegenerative disease as it robs the human family of its memories. As more of the population ages, the memories that one has become that most cherished of attributes that represent life itself. But with Alzheimer’s disease, those memories can slip away along with the life that patient held so dearly.

Women & Minorities Impact

Most don’t realize that nearly 70% of the 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease patients are women. USC recently reported that Black Americans fall to the neurodegenerative disorder at twice the rate as do whites while Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop the condition, or other dementia, than whites.

That a dearth of minorities are involved with the clinical research profession as well as participation as patients is well documented. The USC-led IMPACT-AD aims to change that.

The Founders

A new program designed to diversify the clinical research teams that conduct Alzheimer’s disease trials, the IMPACT-AD program was conceived of by Rema Raman, professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, director of biostatistics at USC’s Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute located in San Diego and Joshua Grill, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior, Alzheimer’s researcher at University of California, Irvine.

The pair were able to develop the program sufficiently to secure two grants, totaling $4 million for five years: The U.S. National Institute on Aging contributed $1.5 million while the Alzheimer’s Association contributed $2.5 million.

Professor Raman commented on the program, “Appropriately designed and well-conducted randomized clinical trials are critical to identifying safe and effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.” Both Raman and Grill co-direct the program.                                                                                             

IMPACT-AD

Actually titled the Institute on Methods and Protocols for Advancement of Clinical Trials in ADRD, “IMPACT-AD is an Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders (ADRD) course that aims to educate and promote diversity among research professionals and future principal investigators in the field of ADRD research.”

The IMPACT-AD program involves:

·         Lectures given by national leaders in ADRD trials while attendees are offered the opportunity to work closely with the field’s top investigators in an intimate setting

·         IMPACT-AD emphasizes diversity of trainees, interactive learning, a cooperative culture among alumni and long-term metrics of success.

·         The course is free and those who attend earn CME credits

For example of the course agenda, see the link

IMPACT-AD, a four-day course, involves not only lectures, workshops and mentored working groups but also top faculty from USC, Harvard, Mayo Clinic, UC Irvine and other leading research institutions. Although planned to be on site given COVID-19 the program moved to the virtual format.

Inaugural Class

Out of 100 applicants, 35 were actually selected to participate, reports Leigh Hopper writing for USC News. Involving a diverse array of clinical trials professionals (investigator, doctor, public health professional, nurse, study coordinator, etc.) it represents a cross-section of the actual working world with some early-career professionals while others are experienced in research. Ms. Hopper reports about the inaugural class that 70% are women and 40% self-identify as persons of color. About 20% of the total group are actually the first in the family to earn advanced degrees.

Doris Molina Henry is part of the faculty of Winston-Salem State University, a “teaching-intensive and minority-serving institution” who was one of applicants approved to participate in the course. Professor Henry certainly anticipates advanced understanding of Alzheimer’s-focused practical tools for conducting clinical trials, believing “diversifying the science is key.” The program, Ms. Hopper shares, aligned with Professor Henry’s personal and professional goals who commented, “I have always believed that Alzheimer’s disease is likely one of the cruelest punishments of aging, and the thought of the loss, loneliness and isolation experienced by those that are afflicted by the disease and their loved ones is really the impetus for my interest in the research.”

Call to Action: Interested in participating in the IMPACT-AD program? See the link for more information