Highlights from the 2023 Inter-Institutional Meeting Hosted by the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Valerie PatmintraBrain Health, Cognitive Aging, Events, News, Press Release

 Meeting Sponsored by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation Brought Together Leading Scientists from the Four McKnight Brain Institutes to Discuss the Prevention and Mitigation of Cognitive Decline: From the Bench to Community Engagement

Expert scientists who study age-related memory loss across the four McKnight Brain Institutes (MBI) – at the University of Alabama at BirminghamUniversity of ArizonaUniversity of Florida and University of Miami – came together at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) campus in May to share and discuss the latest scientific research and collaborative efforts to advance the prevention and mitigation of cognitive decline. 

Sponsored by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation (MBRF), the 14th Inter-Institutional Meeting opened with a tribute to the late Ralph Sacco, MD, MS, FAHA, FAAN, who served with distinction as the Executive Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Miami (UM) from 2007-2023. Dr. Sacco was remembered for his many contributions to advancing the culture and community of the UM EMBI as well as his efforts to advance educational outreach and research to better understand and prevent cognitive decline.

Following the tribute, Ronald Lazar, PhD, director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at UAB, welcomed the more than 100 investigators and the MBRF Board of Trustees to the two-day meeting, which focused on the theme of Prevention and Mitigation of Cognitive Decline: From the Bench to Community Engagement.

“The theme of the 2023 Inter-Institutional Meeting emphasizes the relationship between the science behind memory and cognitive resilience and the need to engage with the diverse populations who will benefit from better understanding that science. While we need science to identify the intervention targets that will help preserve memory and cognition, the impact of science is only valuable to the extent it can be integrated into the community.”

Ronald Lazar, PhD, Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Dr. Lazar thanked the McKnight Brain Research Foundation for its nearly 25-year commitment as a leading advocate for cognitive aging and championing research to better understand how cognitive decline related to the aging process can be slowed or prevented.

Michael L. Dockery, MD, Chair of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, challenged the attendees to not only listen to the findings presented during the meeting, but to think of how this science can be brought together and translated into new advances to transform the future course of age-related cognitive decline and other neurodegenerative diseases, making them conditions that are preventable, treatable and curable.

The opening lecture featured Steven Austad, PhD, Protective Life Endowed Chair in Healthy Aging Research and Distinguished Professor at UAB, discussing his work to translate the biology of aging into the community. Dr. Austad’s lecture underscored the theme of the meeting by highlighting aging as the greatest risk factor of disease and education and income as the key drivers of disparity in life expectancy. He noted the need to create neighborhoods and homes that are more age-friendly and to make sure the accommodations made to protect the elderly are consistent across income levels. 

Tatjana Rundek, MD, PhD, Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at UM, led a panel discussion focused on the multisite McKnight Brain Aging Registry, an ongoing study that’s successfully recruited 205 participants age 85 and older to gain understanding about the changes in brain structure and function that occur with aging. While the cohort is a highly selective group of the most successful agers, it is one of the largest datasets available with neuroimaging data, behavioral data and laboratory data to help better understand why this set of older adults have remained cognitively unimpaired with age. 

The afternoon keynote featured Phillip Gorelick, MD, Professor of Neurology, The Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, discussing cardiovascular risk factors as important modifiable risk factors impacting brain health. As one of the first to study the link between vascular and neurological function, Dr. Gorelick noted that while many people who have dementia also have cardiovascular disease, a lot of work remains to fully understand the relationship.

The meeting also included panel discussions on Implementing Successful Aging into the Community; Conducting Science in Diverse and Underserved Populations; Pre-Clinical Models for Intervention Mechanisms and Outcomes; and Optical Coherence Tomographic Angiography as a Novel Biomarker for Aging. Following the meeting, the MBRF will post a series of blogs offering additional information on initiatives and other programs underway across the four MBIs to advance community engagement and understanding around the prevention of cognitive decline.

A dinner reception was also held at the Florentine Ballroom, featuring guest speaker M. Jocelyn Elders, MD, Vice Admiral and 15th Surgeon General of the U.S., who shared her personal tips for healthy aging.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Dockery and Molly Wagster, PhD, Chief of the Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Branch at the National Institutes for Health, summarized the five C’s Dr. Elders emphasized as the keys to advancing science on how to age successfully: communication, clarity of vision, courage to be a scientist, collaboration and community. Drs. Dockery and Wagster added two additional C’s in thanking the MBI scientists for their contributions and commitment to advancing the science of cognitive aging.

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