Tom Mosley on the MIND Center’s work
From clinical trials to scientific research, the Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is working to discover all it can about Alzheimer’s and related diseases in hopes of improving treatment and finding a cure. Tom Mosley is the MIND Center’s director. The LSU graduate recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about MIND and its efforts. Mosley and his wife, Emily, have one son, a Ph.D. student at Washington University in St. Louis.
So what kind of research is the MIND Center involved in?
“Our research goes in a couple of different directions. We have clinical trials for people who are having memory loss. We also have one of the biggest long-term studies in the world. We’ve been following a large group of people from mid-life to older age to identify risk factors and prevention factors for Alzheimer’s and dementia. We’re interested in that because we’re looking for better ways to treat and prevent the diseases and identifying risk factors is one way to do that.
“Because we’ve been following populations so long, we can go back to mid-life. What our research has shown is that Alzheimer’s doesn’t just start the day you start having memory loss. The pathology started one or two decades before they have any symptoms.”
What are some of the risk factors?
“Our studies have been really focused on the vasculature, the changes in blood vessels in the brain and the factors that relate to those changes. When I first started doing this in Alzheimer’s, the thinking was that Alzheimer’s was one thing and vascular changes were separate, and that the vascular changes could lead to dementia but not Alzheimer’s.
“My work is to show there is much more of an interaction between the two than we think. We look at changes in the vasculature, such as those brought on by blood pressure, diet, smoking and diabetes and the changes of pathology in Alzheimer’s disease. Part of the reason this is relevant in the Deep South is we have a lot of cardiovascular risk factors. If those factors change the pathology of Alzheimer’s we need to know. If they are related, we know there are a lot of things we can do, which can hopefully lower the risk.”
Are there any new studies on the horizon?
“We’re about to launch a new study with one of our long-term collaborators, Mayo Clinic. It’s what we call a population-based study, where we’ll be following a cohort of people. It’s called the MIND Center/Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. We’ll be recruiting several thousand people from around the Madison, Rankin, Hinds area looking for risk factors. We’re interested in racial disparities. We see some disparities between whites and blacks, and we’d like to know why that is. There are some disparities in geography. We want to see why that is. The only way we’re going to figure this out is if people come and volunteer.”
Your website said the MIND Center is also involved in clinical trials. Can you tell me about that?
“We have some clinical trials now, which are in collaboration with the drug companies. One of the pathologies with Alzheimer’s is a protein called beta amyloid. What one test will determine is if we lower the levels of that protein around the brain, will we see changes in memory or thinking skills. We’re hoping that some of the trials will make a difference. There have been a lot of big trials over the years that have been very disappointing. That’s why our research is focused a lot on identifying risk factors, so we can have better targets to shoot at. If we change those habits, it can change a person’s trajectory over time.
“It’s the same way we think about heart disease. We need to not only look at the tools we have to treat heart attacks, but identify risk factors early enough to prevent the heart attack in the first place. That’s the strategy and model we have with Alzheimer’s. We have long way to go. The brain is complex and research is underfunded. That’s been changing over the years. That’s why fundraising and things like the Cyndi Lauper concert is so important to us.”
Why do you think more people are beginning to fund Alzheimer’s research?
“Many more older adults who are at risk are living longer than ever before. So many more people are affected now and so many more people are advocating for it. It takes advocacy to help draw attention to it, get the ear of Congress and the funding. Senator (Roger) Wicker and Senator (Thad) Cochran have been big advocates. They helped increase our funding from the National Institutes of Health for this.”
How many people in Mississippi are affected by Alzheimer’s?
“Upwards of 60,000; several million people across the U.S. The important point here is there are more of us than before, and we’re living longer than ever before. One in 10 baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s, and roughly one in two people over 85 will develop it. Those are scary numbers. In the next 40 years, the over-85 population will quadruple. If we don’t find a way to prevent, cure or slow the progression, the number of people with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. is going to quadruple. There are not enough health care dollars to take care of that many people, so we have to address it.”
How close are we to a cure?
“We’ve got a way to go. The brain is incredibly complex. The research dollars have been relatively slim. It’s going take a long-term commitment. What we ideally would like to do is prevent it. Secondly, if we can come up with a way to slow down the progression... Alzheimer’s is a slowly progressive disease. If we can come up with a treatment that doesn’t cure it but slow the course down, so people can live out a functional life, so they don’t have to move into a nursing home or be dependent on someone else … Again, I can’t venture a guess at how long. I can just tell you there’s a lot more work to do.”
What is MIND’s annual budget?
“We’re lucky enough to get some money from the state. We’ve been getting roughly $3 million a year. The research budget is not on an annual schedule, but we’ve got about $20 million in funded research studies from the NIH at this point. We feel that $3 million every year is a good investment, because we turn it many times over. NIH grants are super competitive. That $3 million base allows us to recruit top scientists and be successful in our mission.”
How many people do you have on staff?
“We have faculty who are across departments. We have some neurologists, some epidemiologists and biostatisticians who work with the MIND Center. Some are housed with us, some are housed in other departments. We have our staff that works in the MIND Center Clinic – they may be nurses or geriatricians. Then, we have staff who works on studies, such as lab technicians. All in, with those various positions … we have about 75 people who work with us. Most salaries come from federal research dollars.”
If people want more information on the MIND Center, what do they need to do?
“I would point them first to our website, https://www.umc.edu/mindcenter. We have a lot information on the website if they want to make an appointment or get on our mailing list. We have a newsletter that we put out several times a year.”