Emory launches largest-ever clinical research study in Atlanta


Imagine a day when a simple blood test or an online questionnaire could tell doctors how to prevent an aging-related disease like Alzheimer’s.

That’s the dream of Emory University professor Dr. Allan Levey, who is helping lead the school’s Healthy Aging Study aimed at better understanding Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases that afflict people as they grow older. The goal: find new ways to identify and treat these diseases earlier so people can remain healthier for longer as they age.

Emory’s Healthy Aging Study is the largest-ever clinical research study in Georgia with an ambitious enrollment goal of 100,000 participants in the first five years. Since its soft launch last October, the study has already garnered more than 2,000 applicants with minimal promotion.

“We can absolutely exceed this,” Levey said. “It could be a million, ten million. We’ll be happy to continue recruiting people because the power’s in the numbers.”

By 2050, Americans ages 65 and older are expected to make up one-fifth of the U.S. population, compared with approximately 15 percent of the population today.

As the numbers of older Americans have increased, so too have the rates of chronic diseases, according to a 2014 Census Bureau report. And many of those older Americans are unable or unprepared to afford the demanding costs of long-term care in a nursing home.

“We’ve got a major national crisis building up in the next couple decades,” said Dr. John Haaga, acting director of the National Institute of Aging’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research. “We just don’t understand enough about the epidemiology behind Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. One in three seniors dies with either Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia — degenerative diseases that will cost the nation an estimated $236 billion in 2016 alone. Nearly 190,000 Georgians are expected to suffer from Alzheimer’s by 2025.

Emory’s Healthy Aging Study, researchers say, can help address the growing problem.

People are living longer but don’t necessarily remain healthy or enjoy a good quality of life during those extra years.

“Their life span is increasing, but the healthy years, or the health span, is really lagging behind,” said Dr. Sharon Bergquist, a member of the Emory study team. “And if we can find new markers and novel ways to approach all types of chronic diseases, people can live healthy longer.”

Atlanta’s diversity — a community of all colors, personalities, backgrounds — is what makes it great for this type of study, said Michele Marcus, a professor at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and also a member of the study's leadership team.

Study participants will be asked to complete memory tasks or answer a short survey every few months with questions about their health habits. Some will also be invited to volunteer for Emory’s ongoing Healthy Brain Study, which also looks to identify predictors of several age-related diseases.

“What is it that people have in common across this diversity that leads to these age-related diseases?” Marcus said.

Though the original purpose of the project was to tackle existing hurdles in understanding the onset of Alzheimer’s, the project is also an opportunity to develop a platform for all aging-related diseases, said Dr. James Lah, another principal investigator of the study.

“It gives us an opportunity to open up a huge group of participants that can be accessed by investigators in any aging-related field — whether it’s brain or heart or mobility health,” Lah said. “Any area that can help expand health span could have a huge impact worldwide.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Temps in the 90s? It’s a possibility
Temps in the 90s? It’s a possibility

Today: Warm. High: 88 Tonight: Partly cloudy. Low: 67 Tomorrow: Isolated showers. High: 87 Days before the start of fall, highs close to 90 degrees are still in the forecast. And at least one metro Atlanta community, McDonough, faces the possibility of hitting the 90-degree mark, according to Channel 2 Action News.  &ldquo...
Judge accused of denying bathroom break faces ethics probe
Judge accused of denying bathroom break faces ethics probe

When you have to go, you have to go. That’s what public defender Jan Hankins said she was telling Chief Judge Courtney Johnson in a DeKalb County Superior Court courtroom during a murder trial in June. But Johnson denied the urgent pleas, leading to an embarrassing accident, according to court filings and a deputy’s report. The incident...
Georgia 2018: Abrams proposes energy jobs plan
Georgia 2018: Abrams proposes energy jobs plan

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. AJC file Democrat Stacey Abrams would seek to train more advanced energy workers, overhaul building codes and permitting standards to encourage more efficiency and create a Georgia “green bank” to offer incentives for environmentally-friendly construction if she’s elected governor....
Protest planned to demand dismissal of teacher who said students couldn’t wear Trump shirts in class
Protest planned to demand dismissal of teacher who said students couldn’t wear Trump shirts in class

A Republican candidate for governor plans to host a protest at River Ridge High School after fall break, his campaign said Monday.  Michael Williams said in a statement that he is upset about, “the administration’s refusal to fire liberal activist teacher, Lyn Orletsky.” Orletsky is on paid administrative leave following...
Georgia Tech student called 911 before shooting, GBI says
Georgia Tech student called 911 before shooting, GBI says

Friends and family said they saw no signs Scout Schultz was under great mental strain before the 21-year-old engineering student was shot dead Saturday night by Georgia Tech police. “I just saw Scout on Thursday, we were planning a board game night,” said Aby Parsons, a friend of Scout’s. “They (Scout) were saying, ‘Wow...
More Stories