The Einstein Study on Aging gets a $32 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help tackle the rising tide of Alzheimer’s disease

To help tackle the rising tide of Alzheimer’s disease nationwide, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in collaboration with faculty at Penn State University and other institutions, have received a five-year, $32 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supporting the Einstein Study on Aging Ongoing (EAS), which focuses on normal aging and the specific challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. EAS was founded at Einstein in 1980 and has been continually funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Richard Lipton, MD, who has led or co-led, has taught since 1992 and is Edwin S. Lowe, MD, professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences, epidemiology, and population health. He is also the vice chair of the division of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore Health System.

Along with Dr. Lipton, regeneration is led by Carol Derby, Ph.D., a research professor in the Saul R. Department of Einstein. Dr. Derby has been a project leader at EAS for over a decade. The leadership team also includes Orvo Buxton, Ph.D., and the Elizabeth Fenton Sussman Professor of Biomedical Behavioral Health at Penn State University.

The burden and inequity of dementia

In the United States, more than a third of people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the fifth leading cause of death for people aged 65 or older. About 6.5 million people over the age of 65 have the disease today – and the number is expected to approach 13 million by 2050.

As with many diseases and health conditions, racial and ethnic inequalities are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. “Black Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than their white counterparts, and Hispanics are at increased risk of developing the disease,” said Dr. Lipton. “In addition, diagnosis is often delayed in these historically marginalized communities. We need to do a better job and find ways to address these disparities.”

The EAS studied more than 2,500 Bronx residents aged 70 or older. It is in a unique position to examine factors related to inequality, thanks to the diversity of its participants. Currently, 40% are non-Hispanic black, 46% are non-Hispanic white, and 13% are Hispanic.

“One of the goals of our study is to examine how social forces contribute to inequality in cognitive health,” said Dr. Derby. “It is critical that we examine how race, ethnicity, neighborhood conditions, and discrimination are risk factors for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Take advantage of technology

Over the past five years, EAS has leveraged mobile technology to gain unprecedented insights into brain aging.

“In the past, we have assessed cognition exclusively through personality tests in our clinical laboratory. By giving study participants smartphones, we can directly measure cognitive performance as they participate in daily activities in the community.”

Mindy Joy Katz, MPH, Senior Associate, Saul R. Korey, Einstein Department of Neurology and EAS Project Coordinator

The new grant will allow EAS investigators to follow more than 700 Bronx adults over the age of 60 who live at home. Each study participant will receive a dedicated smartphone for two weeks each year. The device will alert them several times a day to answer questions about their daily experiences and state of mind and to play games that measure their cognition.

During this two-week period, participants will also wear devices that monitor their physical activity, sleep, and blood sugar levels and measure air pollution and other environmental conditions. Researchers will use this data to determine how risk factors affect short- and long-term cognitive function. They will also evaluate genetic risk factors and blood-based biomarkers to elucidate the pathways linking risk factors to cognitive outcomes and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Taking repeated measurements over many days rather than separate lab readings “gives us a real sense of a person’s perception.” [thinking] “Capacities and how those capabilities change from day to day, in the course of their daily lives. These methods have also allowed us to follow people throughout the pandemic, when in-person visits are unsafe,” said Ms. Katz.

Ultimately, the aim of the study is to identify the factors that lead to poor cognitive outcomes for each individual and then modify these risk factors, if possible, to prevent the development of dementia. “We know that there are a range of factors–medical, social, behavioral, environmental–that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Derby said. “By exciting each person’s individual experiences, we hope to one day offer personalized therapies that help people maintain brain health and stay cognitively healthy into their later years.”


Albert Einstein College of Medicine


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