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Leading Researchers to Discuss Connection Between Cardiovascular Disease and Dementia
02/24/2010

DALLAS — Some of the world’s leading experts on how aging affects the brain and cardiovascular system will assemble in Dallas next month to discuss what the connection is between the two — and whether exercise might slow the development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The summit, “Masterclass: The aging heart and brain - integrating exercise, cardiovascular disease and dementia,” brings together Dallas scientists and Dutch researchers who have been at the forefront of dementia research. Presentations will delve into how brain imaging can help diagnose neurological diseases, how diabetes affects the brain, and new treatment possibilities for Alzheimer’s disease.

The three-day summit is hosted by the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM) at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and the Alzheimer Disease Center at the UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“This area of research is increasingly important as the U.S. population ages, and we begin to see the devastating effects of the obesity epidemic and related cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Benjamin Levine, director of the IEEM. “These are health issues that are only going to worsen in coming years.”

Dr. Rong Zhang 
Rong Zhang, Ph.D. 
Click photo to download hi-res image

The multidisciplinary conference is aimed at neurologists, cardiologists, gerontologists, scientists and other clinicians interested in the subject.

“Research into the causes and treatments of brain diseases has traditionally focused on patients from the neck up,” said IEEM researcher Rong Zhang, Ph.D., who is leading a major study into the connection between exercise and brain function as people age. “Cardiovascular research has focused on the heart, lungs and blood vessels from the neck down. We want to bridge that divide — and find whether there’s a connection between the two.”

The three-day conference will enable participants to visit the two centers and interact with researchers at each site. The summit also will allow the U.S. and Dutch scientists to compare best practices and look across cultural differences in dementia diagnosis and care. Dr. Jurgen Claassen, a geriatrician and senior researcher at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in The Netherlands, and Dr. Barbera van Harten, a neurologist at Leeuwarden in The Netherlands, will speak along with other leading Dutch scientists.

“It’s an honor to host such a prestigious meeting of these researchers, led by our team at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine,” said Britt Berrett, Ph.D., FACHE, president of Texas Health Dallas. “The IEEM is internationally recognized for its research on aging and exercise science. It’s one of the world’s leading research centers right here in our own back yard.”

The IEEM was recently awarded a four-year grant from the National Institute on Aging to investigate the connection between exercise and brain function as people age. Researchers say there are many mysteries about brain vascular function in healthy seniors and how it’s different in those with mild cognitive impairment, which leads to Alzheimer’s disease. And little is known about whether exercise training improves brain blood flow and how changes in brain blood flow are related to brain function.

“We want to unlock these mysteries and search for better preventions and treatments for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia,” Levine said.

The most common cause of dementia in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects one in 10 people over age 65 and nearly half of all individuals who reach age 85. More than four million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, making it the fourth leading cause of death in adults.

Many people with mild cognitive impairment eventually develop Alzheimer's disease, although some remain stable and others even return to normal.

“The goal of this conference is to bring together leaders in the field, present our latest findings and learn from each other,” Zhang said. “We want to better understand cognitive impairment, so that one day we’ll be able to better prevent and treat it.”

About the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine
The Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM) was founded as a joint program between Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Its mission is to promote basic and clinical research, education, and clinical practice in defining the limits to human functional capacity in health and disease, with the objective of improving the quality of life for human beings of all ages. The IEEM includes ten major laboratories tightly integrated and organized intellectually along the “oxygen cascade” — the path that oxygen must follow through the body from the external environment through the lungs, heart, and skeletal muscle to perform cognitive function and physical activity. The IEEM is among the only research centers in the world that fosters the fusion of basic science and clinical medicine in a program designed specifically to study human physiology.

For more information about the symposium or to RSVP, call 214-345-4619.

About Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas is an 866-bed acute care hospital and recognized clinical program leader, having provided compassionate care to the residents of Dallas and surrounding communities since 1966. U.S. News and World Report has ranked Texas Health Dallas among the nation’s best hospitals in digestive disorders, orthopedics, and neurology and neurosurgery. An affiliate of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system, Texas Health Dallas has approximately 4,000 employees and an active medical staff of more than 1,000 physicians. For more information, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit TexasHealth.org/Dallas.

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