Active Studies in Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory in Aging

The research in our lab focuses on how memories are formed and retrieved and how different brain structures are involved in these processes.  Additionally, we are interested in how memory formation and retrieval may change in normal aging and as a consequence of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.  We use several different methods to investigate these questions, including computerized behavioral tests, cognitive tests, and brain imaging. Below are descriptions of several research studies related to Alzheimer’s disease ongoing in the lab. If you are interested in participating in one of these studies, please visit our Participate in Studies page.


1. High-Resolution Neuroimaging Biomarkers for Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease (ADRC Project 1, National Institute on Aging, P50 AG16573)

Project 1 of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) strives to understand the conditions underlying the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. We are interested in understanding the role of Alzheimer’s pathology in the brains of older adults ages 65-85 before manifestation of cognitive symptoms (i.e., during the preclinical phase). Pathology is thought to change the brain’s structure and function in subtle ways at the earliest stages of the disease, particularly in memory circuits.  We have developed advanced high-resolution brain imaging tools as well as computerized cognitive tests that are highly sensitive to the earliest changes in the disease process and allow for a comprehensive view of the impact of Alzheimer’s risk on the brain to pave the way to early detection and diagnosis.

2. Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease in Adults with Down Syndrome (National Institute on Aging, U01 AG051412-03)

Individuals with Down Syndrome have a high risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but little is known about the biomarkers that characterize disease onset and progression or why some individuals develop dementia much earlier than others. This study focuses on a multidisciplinary determination of key risk as well as protective biomarkers that are likely to affect AD progression, including blood-based, CSF-based and imaging-based biomarkers, and polymorphisms in AD-related genes. Study of biomarkers for early dementia changes may yield critical data documenting the transition from normal aging to mild cognitive impairment to clinical dementia in individuals with DS. This can provide key insights into the pathways involved in AD progression and may allow for future therapeutic interventions before irreversible cognitive deterioration has occurred.

3. Neuroimaging Biomarkers for Cognitive Decline in Elderly with Amyloid Pathology (National Institute on Aging, R01 AG053555-01A1)

Age-related cognitive decline is a significant public health concern as the population over the age of 60 continues to grow sharply. Advances in understanding the mechanisms that underlie this decline will allow for effective interventions and substantially reduce the burden on families as well as government and social programs. Establishing early indicators of the disease process during the preclinical stage is a critical goal of biomedical research. This project’s goal is to determine the neural features (i.e. biomarkers) associated with amyloid pathology accumulation, and determine objectively how to combine these biomarkers to identify individuals with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

In this project, we will combine state-of- the-art high-resolution multimodal MRI tools with targeted, innovative cognitive testing approaches and leverage our local UCI Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) to assist in recruiting older adults aged 60-85 years old with normal memory to participate in the project’s studies. We will conduct PET scans on all participants to determine amyloid status (targeting 50% positivity across the whole sample) and amount of tau pathology. Collectively, the studies within this project will significantly inform our understanding of cognitive decline in the aging brain in the presence and absence of amyloid and tau pathology and allow us to better define preclinical AD and make recommendations for future intervention trials.

4. Sensory Enrichment for Older Adults- Study Phase 2

The purpose of this study is to explore sensory stimulation as a potential means of enhancing cognitive abilities. It has been generally known that smelling fragrances can result in improved feelings of well being, with supporting data from research studies showing fragrance stimulation increases feelings of relaxation and decreases feelings of anxiety. Interestingly, studies also have shown that in addition to the quality of life benefits, fragrance stimulation can improve cognition and memory, as well as improved olfactory (smell) functioning. In this study, we will determine if a daily sensory enrichment regimen using fragrances for 6 months can improve cognitive skills, as measured using a series of cognitive assessments. We also will determine if mood/mental state of mind or olfactory functioning improve following fragrance stimulation.

Participants must be 60-85 years of age and in good general health with no diagnosis of memory impairment. The study involves 4 visits to UCI over 6 months, each approximately 2 hours, as well as nightly sensory enrichment at home involving the use of a fragrance diffuser provided by the study. A subset of eligible participants will also receive an MRI of the brain.

If you are interested in participating in one of these studies, please visit our Participate in Studies page for details and our contact information.