UC Davis Researcher helps with Facts and Figures

On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the Alzheimer’s Association will release our 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report. This week we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Kumar Bharat Rajan. He is one of the researchers in our area who provides data for the report.

Starting his career
After completing his PhD in Biostatistics from the University of Washington in 2009, Dr. Kumar Rajan was recruited by Denis Evans, MD. He joined the research group of the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

CHAP
is a longitudinal epidemiological study of Alzheimer’s disease and other common
chronic health conditions. The participants, from Chicago, are all over age 65.

“We worked
together for many years,” said Dr. Rajan. “He was instrumental in helping me
learn the epidemiology of Alzheimer’s disease in population-based setting.”

Dr.
Rajan has continued to work with CHAP data since the project ended in 2012. He also
has several ongoing NIH (National Institutes of Health) funded projects to
continue this important area of research.

Fact: Alzheimer's is the 6th leading cause of death in the US

A scientific curiosity
When Dr. Rajan began his research, he wanted to understand the influence of lifestyle and genetic risk factors on Alzheimer’s disease in community-based studies. “I was interested in identifying preventive factors that can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr.
Rajan felt that Alzheimer’s deserved more attention. “I also wanted to know how
we could best investigate many unexplored areas of research. It began with a
lot of scientific curiosity and identifying ways to prevent this terrible
disease in the elderly.”

An Overview on CHAP
CHAP researchers collected data on the same people repeatedly for almost 20 years. Dr. Rajan said, “We recruited and enrolled 10,800 people over the age of 65 between 1993-2012.” The study looked at common chronic health problems, especially focusing on Alzheimer’s risk. Older African American and Caucasian residents in the southside of Chicago participated.

In reflecting on the importance of CHAP, Dr.
Evans says, “The CHAP study has been important in estimating the number of
people who have Alzheimer’s disease in the general population, in energizing research
investigation of the disease among minorities, especially African Americans and
in uncovering several factors that give rise to increased risk of Alzheimer’s
disease.”

Alzheimer’s Association grant recipient
In 2014 Dr. Rajan received a New Investigator Research Grant from the Alzheimer’s Association. “The grant was used towards investigating how lifestyle characteristics can help moderate the genetic risk of APOE E4 allele on Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline,” said Dr. Rajan.

“The
grant supported the publication of a series of papers on how lifestyle changes
can moderate APOE-e4 allele and how they might be different between African
Americans and European Americans.”

Using Data for Facts and Figures
Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures is published annually. It reveals the burden of Alzheimer’s and dementia in the U.S. It focuses on the impact on individuals, caregivers, government and the nation’s health care system.

Fact: 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer's or another dementia

“The CHAP study has been giving
the Alzheimer’s Association estimates since the late 90’s,” said Dr. Rajan.
“We have provided the Alzheimer’s Association data on prevalence and incidence
estimates of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S.”

Dr. Keith Fargo, Ph.D, Director,
Scientific Programs & Outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association says, “CHAP
has been an invaluable source of data about the prevalence of Alzheimer’s
dementia.

“The prevalence estimates have
helped us educate the public about the large — and growing — problem of
Alzheimer’s disease, which drives everything from raising awareness to helping
policy makers understand the importance of investing in Alzheimer’s care, support,
and research.”

Dr. Rajan is continuing this work
and leading short- and mid-term projects with the NIH and Alzheimer’s
Association. He will provide projections for the number of people living with
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the U.S. between 2020 and 2025.

Team of researchers for the PORCH STUDY that provides data for facts and figures
Kumar’s study team for PORCH

Continuing to work with data
Currently Dr. Rajan is a Professor of Biostatistics in the Department of Public Health Sciences. He is co-leader of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s Data Management and Biostatistics Core.

His job is to ensure that all of
the data being collected by various studies are available to internal and
external collaborators. The data is used to identify preventive factors and
biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease.

He is also Principal Investigator
for CHAP’s offspring study, Parent Offspring
Resilience and Cognitive Health (PORCH), based in Chicago. “We have a NIH-funded
study to examine how cognitive resilience in parents might be associated with
better cardiovascular and cognitive health in children who are aged 40-64 years
old,” said Dr. Rajan.

The PORCH Study will be made up of
adults whose parents were in the CHAP study. “We are looking at cognitive
resilience and structural MRIs characteristics including white matter injuries
in the offspring. We’ll perform memory, cardiovascular and blood tests,” said
Dr. Rajan. “We are also looking at their lifestyle, cognitive and physical
activities and sleep in relation to their parents.”

“We want to see if any parental
protective factors might mitigate some of the risk that can be seen in the
second-generation population, factors that can help with better health in
children.”

Study area for PORCH
PORCH Study Area

Potential collaborators can also
request CHAP data through a data portal. These types of studies are
critical to helping us learn what midlife lifestyle factors may impact whether
people develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

To find out more about the Alzheimer’s Associations Facts and Figures report go to alz.org/facts. The 2019 report will be available until March 10.

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