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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Maryland Awarded NIH Grant to Study Exercise and Brain Health for Those at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Carson Smith, associate professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s department of kinesiology, has been awarded a $3.6 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to serve as principal investigator on his project titled “Exercise for Brain Health with Increased Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.” Dr. Smith and his co-researchers will conduct a clinical trial to determine the influence and possible benefits of exercise on the brain and cognitive function of this vulnerable population.

[Photo: Dr. Carson Smith]

In this project, Dr. Smith and his colleagues will test the potential for exercise training, compared to flexibility exercise conditioning, to effect biomarkers of neural network function in healthy carriers of APOE-e4, an Alzheimer’s risk gene. They will also look at whether exercise improves the efficiency of memory neural networks and memory performance. These may provide a low-cost, high-impact approach for Alzheimer’s Disease prevention, and improve the quality of life of older adults at increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Exercise is a low-cost, low-side effect intervention that improves cardiovascular and metabolic health, both of which are significant co-morbidities of dementia, the project narrative reads. If it is shown to be effective in attenuating Alzheimer’s Disease progression, exercise training has the potential to have a tremendous positive impact on public health.

This research builds on Dr. Smith’s previous work in the area of exercise and brain health. Published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in August 2016, that work suggests that improvements in brain blood flow to a person’s brain because of exercise will diminish if that person stops training. Researchers examined cerebral blood flow in healthy, physically fit older adults (ages 50-80 years) before and after a 10-day period during which they stopped all exercise. Using MRI brain imaging techniques, they found a significant decrease in blood flow to several brain regions, including the hippocampus, after they stopped their exercise routines.

“We know that the hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory and is one of the first brain regions to shrink in people with Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Smith said in a discussion about the previous research. This new project will build on the foundation his research has established, providing potentially critical new information specifically for those genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s Disease.