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HSC launches first-of-its kind Black Alzheimer’s brain study

🕐 4 min read

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disease that slowly destroys memory skills, thinking skills and eventually the ability to carry out daily activities. Today, an estimated 2.2 million African Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, one in two Black households is impacted by Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among people 65 and older, African Americans have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, followed by Hispanics and non-Latino whites.

While there are many theories about why African Americans are at a greater biological risk of Alzheimer’s disease, medical researchers do not know why.

The University of North Texas Health Science Center has previously announced an investment of $7 million in the first-ever Black Alzheimer’s (ALZ) Brain Study, and now is launching an outreach campaign throughout DFW, HFC said in a news release.

HSC’s Black ALZ Brain Study will leverage state-of-the-art imaging and robotics to analyze brain protein markers. Led by the preeminent researchers, the study does not require injections nor the administration of prescription drugs.

Participants will undergo free comprehensive interviews, functional exams, blood draw, a brain MRI and a PET scan, and will earn compensation for their time. The research study is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

As part of its historic Health & Aging Brain Study, the effort seeks to find answers to why Alzheimer’s disproportionately impacts Black families. Media personality Sybil Wilkes, as well as community, civic, and faith-based leaders have joined the effort to help increase awareness and encourage Black residents in DFW to join the study.

“My life’s mission is to super-serve our people and affect positive change. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help bring attention to this important study and encourage others to join,” said  Wilkes, a media veteran formerly of the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that, unfortunately, has hit Black families the hardest. Please do it for Big Mama. Join this study to help change our future.”

Many Black Americans remain skeptical about medical research, much of which is rooted in history, the news release said.

Through targeted, culturally sensitive outreach, HSC’s team of doctors, scientists and educators are working to build confidence in the groundbreaking study. In addition to engaging well-respected voices in the Black community, the integrated campaign includes hyper-localized radio, digital and social media. Testimonials from DFW residents and caregivers who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s are also prominently featured.

“Simply stated, transparency and trust will be key components of the Black ALZ Brain Study’s success – and we’re all in,” said Dr. Leigh Johnson, Associate Director of the Institute for Translational Research. “I’ve not only dedicated my career to helping others through science, but I also live in the DFW metroplex and love this community. There’s nothing more rewarding than doing meaningful work in my own backyard.”

Research has shown that factors such as stress, poverty and socioeconomic disadvantages are associated with cognitive problems in midlife and dementia later in life. African Americans also suffer from a high burden of medical risk factors for Alzheimer’s such as high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

“Every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most prevalent,” said Dr. Sid O’Bryant, professor and Executive Director of the HSC Institute for Translational Research. “With this number set to rise, there has never been a more urgent time to gain a better understanding of this disease, especially its impact on Black families.”

For information, helpful resources and to join the Black ALZ Brain study, visit or call (817) 735-2963.

The HSC Institute for Translational Research is dedicated to understanding and eliminating health disparities in Alzheimer’s disease among underserved communities. The Health & Aging Brain Study – Health Disparities is the most comprehensive study of Alzheimer’s among diverse communities ever conducted, HSC said in the news release.

The team studies the biology of disease within the context of social, environmental and behavioral factors because a “who you are,” “where you are from,” and “your environment” are important to how you age.

The Black ALZ Brain Study seeks to recruit 1,000 North Texas-based residents, ages 50 and older, to research why African Americans are at a greater biological risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Long-term, the goal is to develop new treatments that can prevent the deadly disease.

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