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A Call for Community Healing: Black Participation in Alzheimer’s Research 
By Betti Halsell Staff Writer
Published March 13, 2022

Doris Molina-Henry is an Assistant Professor of Research Neurology at the Keck School of Medicine (Courtesy of Molina-Henry Office)

 

The AHEAD study is the first known research project to enroll participants that are as young as 55 and customize the treatment based on the patient’s amyloid level. In order to elevate the health within underrepresented groups, there is a call for community participation.

Doris Molina-Henry is an Assistant Professor of Research Neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Additionally, she is a member of the USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute and dedicated her energy towards AHEAD’s Study recruitment section.

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The Assistant Professor of Research Neurology defined the severity of the Alzheimer disease, by stating, “It’s what we call a neurodegenerative disease–It’s a disease that causes the brain to degenerate over time to change over time, to the point where some of the principal functions that your brain can execute and perform very normally become effective, it’s very different from what happens in normal aging.”

Molina-Henry continued, “When you age, normally, you may have some changes in your speed of thinking you may have some changes in your memory you’ve made may tend to forget certain things more easily. But with Alzheimer’s, those changes are a lot more pronounced. And they can have so much of an impact that they can affect your everyday function.”

Dr. Molina-Henry earned her PhD in Neurobiology and Anatomy from Wake Forest University’s Health Sciences. Her dissertation emphasized the role of trophic factors in “age-related” brain functions. She authored publications on the influence of growth hormone and its changes in synaptic transmission.

With a diverse background, Dr. Molina-Henry grew up in a household that celebrated her Afro-Caribbean and Latin culture. Her father battles a degenerative spinal condition, she feels the sensitivity behind underrepresented family households who champion a lifestyle with physical challenges.

In an exclusive interview with Los Angeles Sentinel, Dr. Molina-Henry uncovered urgent needs to assist with the health of the Black community. The office of Molina-Henry shared alarming statistics:

  • For Black and African American adults in the United States, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is two times higher than for non-Hispanic white adults.
  •  The Black community is significantly underrepresented in medical research, accounting for less than nine percent of trial participation.

“I think that the most straightforward statistic that we typically share when we think of that is that African Americans–Black individuals in our communities are two times more likely than whites in general to develop Alzheimer’s disease. They are affected sometimes sooner and affected more aggressively.” Molina-Henry said.

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Dr. Molina-Henry shared another important factor affecting the Black community, “They [Black Community] tend to be diagnosed less frequently and that may be as a result of the fact that people perceive this to be a condition that is normal to aging at times until it’s progressed significantly.”

Combatting these odds is the AHEAD study, Molina-Henry elaborated on the ingredients in producing this research. The AHEAD project was designed to determine whether mitigating AHEAD of illnesses can prevent future memory loss and dementia.

Molina-Henry also outlined preventive measures one can take to deter the degenerative symptoms,  “By making changes in your life early enough, maybe you can offset when the disease occurs–a lot of that research is still undergoing, and we find that it does have an impact,” said Dr. Molina-Henry.

In full transparency, Dr. Molina-Henry shared the grey areas within the study, by stating, “We still in some respects, are still unclear on what exactly is it that is, in point, prevent treat, cure the disease. There are other avenues, of course, where there are treatments now that are becoming available there’s a lot of work that is diligently done by a number of different groups in research, to find ways of tackling the disease from different angles.

Molina-Henry has looked at all aspects of mental health research. Her preceding work in this field included the exploration of the relationship between sleep and the mind’s ability to mitigate dementia.

In this proactive study, AHEAD has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and Eisai,inc. It examines if an “investigational treatment,” removing amyloid from the brain; to slow any brain changes in people who might be predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease.

The AHEAD study is in search of healthy adults between the ages of 55-80 and participants from different walks of life, to find the solution to a healthier world. Visit AHEADStudy.org to learn more. 

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