UNLV & Ruvo Center receive $11.3 million grant for Alzheimer’s research

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The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health building is designed to demonstrate what those with Alzheimer's experience. Photo by Jimmy Romo

UNLV and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health were awarded a $11.3 million grant that will fund the two sides’ joint effort for research on Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

The grant, from The National Institutes of Health, will help fund phase two of the ongoing research and partnership from UNLV and the Ruvo Center to create more research infrastructure and career development for neuroscience research in southern Nevada. 

“It’s really sort of reassurance and it’s a validation of some of the work that we’ve done before,” Ruvo Center for Brain Health Aaron Ritter said from the Lou on the reaction to the award. “That’s the initial feeling and it’s followed by the feeling of responsibility…to better understand normal aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and to apply some of the newer technologies to better help understand these diseases” 

In phase two, the grant will help fund southern Nevada’s first Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE): The Center for Neurodegeneration and Translational Neuroscience (CNTN). One of the goals of the CNTN and phase two are to help develop infrastructure to make new discoveries in their research in Alzheimer’s.

“It really is designed to give them an opportunity to build a very strong research program,” said Dr. Jefferson Kinney, the chair of the Department of Brain Health at UNLV. “So while we build the research capacity, we also build the researchers themselves at the institutions and the goals are just to continue in phase two what we have already done in phase one and just expand on that success.”

Some of the goals in phase two include creating sustainability in research capacities to continue to find cutting edge research in Alzheimer’s Disease. Kinney said that the next several years that this award will help build the infrastructure at both institutions to advance research in Alzheimer’s.

In phase one, Ritter mentioned one of their findings was the relationship between inflammation and overall brain health. He said they have done research to detect inflammation levels in the blood and that seems to correlate with how the brain performs, as well as some of the biochemical processes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. The inflammation component of Alzheimer’s will be an area they continue to look at in phase two.  

Another area that was researched in phase one was looking at the differences men and women experience with Alzheimer’s, since more women are impacted by Alzheimer’s than men, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Ritter said that research has led to developing a prevention clinic for women because they have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 49,000 people age 65 or older are living with Alzheimer’s in Nevada. Ritter said that the funding and resources being poured into the Ruvo Center and UNLV will help give those impacted by the disease a facility closer to home to help combat the disease. But, the research being done between both sides has been felt beyond its regional footprint. 

“The impact of this research is actually extending beyond just southern Nevada,” Kinney said. “So because of what we built in the first phase of COBRE and what’s continuing, we’re now part of several nationwide research initiatives. We have several research grants from members of the COBRE group that are really making discoveries international level ”

UNLV students have received the opportunity to work on a variety of COBRE research projects and have been exposed to more clinical research through the school’s partnership with the Ruvo Center. Ritter and Kinney both expect the partnership between UNLV and the Ruvo Center to grow with the grants they are receiving and collaborative work going on between both sides. 

“We need a partner to help with both young and upcoming talent as a new pool of researchers that will continue to advance the field forward,” Ritter said. “We need expertise not just in clinical care, but in basic science and we get that from the UNLV Department of Brain Health.”

Ritter said that the diversity and inclusion of Alzheimer’s Disease research is another key area both sides want to focus on in the future. And they hope to see more junior researchers contributing to the understanding of neurodegenerative disorders and overall help their career development. 

The work between the Ruvo Center and Department of Brain Health is also helping other UNLV departments. Other researchers from the UNLV School of Medicine have been involved with projects from the Ruvo Center. Kinney noted that an example of their work benefiting other departments is the biomarkers in Alzheimer’s Disease, and how that capacity and approach can be used by any researcher at the School of Medicine and grow research in any clinical or medical relevant field. 

UNLV and the Ruvo Center were awarded a grant in 2015 to create the first COBRE in southern Nevada. In the seven years since, both sides have made strides in research of Alzheimer’s Disease. Some of the research from both sides’ findings have come from monitoring 150-200 individuals over the seven years, which include monitoring their blood work and brain scans from those individuals, which has helped them find patterns in those who might have Alzheimer’s. 

The Ruvo Center opened in May of 2010. And at the same time as the Ruvo Center UNLV has made strides with the development of a medical school and becoming a top-tier research institution. Ritter said that these grants and the work done by both sides are realizations to the rest of the medical field that southern Nevada can contribute meaningful research. 

Ritter hopes that these grants will lead to more research and development of more effective therapies for Alzheimer’s disease that will help with the long term outcome. He said that the relationship with UNLV’s Department of Brain Health is one way that the Ruvo Center has been able to grow how they approach the disease and ways to “find better and more effective treatments.” 

“It’s about bringing people into Alzheimer’s disease research from all different kinds of areas of study and, and sort of exposing people to science that may or may not have had the background or the opportunities in the past,” Ritter said.

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