Northern Light Health is launching a statewide research trial to study the aging brain, in an effort to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive diseases related to aging.

The clinical trial – called the MAINAH – will be open to any adults and seniors in Maine, and is expected to include hundreds of participants, said Dr. Cliff Singer, geriatric services director at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor.

Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and about 10 percent of seniors age 65 and older will get Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. About 5.8 million Americans – and 28,000 Maine people – currently have Alzheimer’s, according to the association.

Partners for the clinical trial include The Jackson Laboratory, University of Maine and all the major hospital networks in the state. While patients can be from anywhere in Maine and use their primary care doctor to be part of the trial, the research will be done at Acadia.

Singer said the clinical trial will encourage patients to have healthy habits – such as exercise, diet, sleep and refraining from smoking – that research shows can help stave off cognitive diseases. Study participants will take an annual cognitive test, answer lifestyle surveys and establish a health baseline to be tracked over time.

“We seek to develop a rich pool of patients that we will follow for a very long time, and we can study to see if lifestyle choices are preventing these diseases or slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s once it’s developing,” Singer said.

Despite decades of research, scientists have made little headway in developing medications that can cure or substantially slow the progress of Alzheimer’s, said Paula Grammas, executive director of the George and Anne Ryan Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island. Grammas was a featured speaker at an Alzheimer’s Foundation of America conference in Portland last Tuesday.

More than 99 percent of all clinical trials regarding Alzheimer’s have failed, Grammas said, although Congress is pouring more funding into research. National Institutes of Health research has increased from $400 million about five years ago to $2.3 billion currently, and advocates are requesting $2.8 billion for next year.

The initial funding for the study is a $25,000 grant from Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, but Singer said they are trying to secure additional funding from the National Institute on Aging, a subsidiary of NIH.

Singer said they are hoping to earn an NIA grant for a second phase of the clinical trial that will include 100 or more patients with high risk factors for Alzheimer’s or with early-onset Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Those patients would undergo more rigorous testing, including brain imaging and gene sequencing, Singer said.

He said the researchers want young adults to participate as well.

“Some of these changes in the brain start occurring in midlife, and so we want to include young, healthy people, too,” Singer said.

To inquire about enrolling in the study, send an email to [email protected] or call 973-7733. Details are available at www.northernlighthealth.org/MAINAH.


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