Wisconsin Alzheimer’s disease research study marks new milestone

The 20-year study is the the largest family history study of Alzheimer's disease in the world.
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 4:42 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 30, 2021 at 10:25 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Wisconsin study on Alzheimer’s disease marked its 20th year Tuesday, making it the largest family history study of the disease in the world.

The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health noted the study, known as the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, more than 1,700 research participants have been involved in the study since 2001.

The study follows people over time to learn about the biological, health and lifestyle factors that may influence Alzheimer’s disease. Seventy percent of the participants have a family history of the disease.

Sterling Johnson, WRAP principal investigator and UW professor of medicine, noted that the longer a person is included in the study, the more researchers can learn about changes to the brain and how it relates to cognitive function over the course of time.

“Our participants and our researchers are a team,” Johnson said. “We are enabling real progress toward a future of delaying, preventing and ending Alzheimer’s disease.”

Researchers note that subjects come in every two years for tasks like memory testing, blood draws and interviews. A subgroup also goes through brain imaging and spinal fluid tests.

The school of medicine noted this allows them to understand patterns that may be related to the development of Alzheimer’s or the prevention of it before symptoms come in.

“It’s been an extraordinary study, bringing the biological, high tech to the more traditional cognitive and memory tests that we do…and you pair that up with dedicated participants and a longitudinal study of this magnitude, of this size, that has this level of longitudinal follow-up, it’s been pretty powerful,” Johnson said.

Researchers are hopeful they will be able to analyze blood samples in the future to determine if signs of the disease can be detected. The blood samples have been put into a freezer, in some cases for almost two decades.

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