Psychology Professor Receives $2.6 Million Grant

Posted: September 20, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

The nation’s aging baby boomers could bring the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease to an all-time high. Now, more than ever, researchers are looking for ways to detect and prevent Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

Raja Parasuraman
Raja Parasuraman

“The incidence of Alzheimer’s is undergoing explosive growth,” says Raja Parasuraman, professor of psychology at Mason. “In an effort to control this rapid growth, a major approach has been to examine individuals who are not affected, but who have an increased genetic risk for developing the disease later in life.”

Parasuraman recently received a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct such research. His program, “Apolipoprotein, Attention and Alzheimer’s disease,” will annually test more than 500 middle-aged and older adults for four years using cognitive, genetic and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests to identify precursors of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, cases of Alzheimer’s in the United States have risen from two million to five million in the last 10 years. By the year 2050, approximately one in every 45 Americans will be afflicted.

Apolipoprotein E (APOE) is an inherited gene that has been closely linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. Though APOE is the strongest known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s, only half of its carriers develop the disease by age 80. Parasuraman hopes to make advancements in early detection by identifying markers sensitive to APOE.

The five-year project will closely examine the effects of APOE on attention and memory in three groups of healthy adults — ages 18 to 29, 40 to 59, and 60 to 75. Through a previously established collaborative relationship with a research group at the University of Oslo in Norway, one of the studies will be carried out by Ivar Reinvang, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the university. The older group will be tested at the University of Oslo because of the greater frequency of the APOE gene in Northern Europe.

Additional co-investigators of the project include Pamela Greenwood, James Thompson and Shimin Fu, all from the Department of Psychology, and Karl Fryxell, of Mason’s Molecular and Microbiology Department.

“Though a project of this magnitude will take a great deal of time, effort and funding,” Parasuraman says, “we are confident that during the next five years we will see revealing patterns that will lead to earlier detection and ultimately the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Approximately 360,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s are reported each year. Parasuraman says that if interventions were created to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by just two years, there would be nearly two million fewer cases than projected by 2050.

Parasuraman was recently appointed chair of the NeuroImaging Core of the Krasnow Institute, which oversees MRI usage policy and procedures. In 2004, he received the Franklin V. Taylor Award for Lifetime Achievement in Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology by the American Psychology Association.

Further information on this and other research projects conducted at Mason can be found on the Research News page.

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