Vital Longevity Leadership Nets $4.6 Million in NIH Funding

Oct. 13, 2011

Dr. Denise Park

Dr. Denise Park

Drs. Denise Park and Michael Rugg, co-directors of the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas, have each been awarded a five-year research grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to further their studies on how aging affects the brain and memory.

A $3 million grant, awarded to Dr. Park, is the second phase of a prestigious NIH MERIT award, given to a select group of experienced investigators who have demonstrated outstanding research productivity. The first phase of the award was funded in 2006. The renewed funding will support continuation of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, which aims to understand who ages successfully and why, as well as who is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease well before symptoms appear.

The study employs both sophisticated brain imaging techniques and tests of cognitive abilities. Dr. Park and her team have already gathered data on 350 study participants, healthy adults ranging in age from 20 to 90, and are aiming for 150 more. The plan is to monitor participants for many years, with the goal of identifying a “neural signature” that is characteristic of healthy cognition and that will predict who will and will not age well.

Dr. Michael Rugg

Dr. Michael Rugg

Dr. Rugg and his research team are investigating the cognitive and neural processes that support human memory and how age-related changes in these processes affect memory as we get older. His new $1.6 million grant will support research focused on episodic memory — the type of memory that allows us to remember unique events that are tied to a particular place and time.

“Understanding how episodic memories are formed and retrieved in healthy people is important because this type of memory declines sharply with age and is severely affected in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Rugg. He and his team will use a variety of measures of brain structure and neural activity in healthy adults to identify and characterize changes in brain circuitry that contribute to age-related decline in episodic memory.

Consult the UT Dallas Center for Vital Longevity website for more information about these and other ongoing research projects.


Media Contact: Tara Marathe, UT Dallas, (972) 883-3200, tara.marathe@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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