Barrow Neurological Foundation announced that Barrow Neurological Institute, an internationally renowned leader in the treatment of brain and spinal disorders, has been awarded $10 million by the Office of the Arizona Governor through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), to study the effects of COVID-19 on Alzheimer’s. ARPA provides entities across the country with funding to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

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The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a devastating 15 percent greater mortality rate for those with Alzheimer’s disease compared to the general aging population. During the pandemic, Arizona saw a 30 percent increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia compared to previous years’ averages. There are more than 150,000 Arizonans living with Alzheimer’s, with that number expected to increase exponentially in coming years.

“My administration is enthusiastically committed to trusting and investing in science that will keep our vulnerable communities safe,” said Governor Hobbs. “Arizonans deserve to have reassurance that we’re doing all we can to understand and respond to the impacts of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable populations.”

This grant will aid Barrow’s world-renowned scientists in better understanding the link between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease and in identifying specific subsets of patients who are most vulnerable to the virus. Results from both of these studies will be integrated to identify common disease patterns that will aid in the development of novel treatments, diagnostic tests, and clinical interventions.

“As one of the world’s premier neuroscience institutes, Barrow is uniquely poised to lead research into the long-term effects of COVID-19 on clinically relevant health outcomes in vulnerable Alzheimer’s patients. Thanks to the incredible support and generosity of the Office of the Arizona Governor, our scientists can begin this groundbreaking, vital work that will impact the more than 55 million people worldwide suffering from Alzheimer’s,” said Katie Cobb, President of Barrow Neurological Foundation.

To better understand the link between COVID-19 infection and Alzheimer’s disease, Barrow scientists will conduct clinical studies involving Alzheimer’s patients who had COVID-19 and non-Alzheimer’s patients who experienced cognitive deficits as a result of COVID-19. These studies will enable scientists to determine whether the virus triggers dementia-associated disease mechanisms and will provide them with opportunities to uncover disease-relevant biomarkers.

“Understanding the correlation between COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive function will not only help us address an unmet need in this patient population, but it also will help develop novel diagnostics to treat affected patients earlier. With funding from the Office of the Arizona Governor, we can now begin this important work,” said Michael T. Lawton, MD, Barrow Neurological Institute President and CEO. 

To provide a more detailed picture of the impact of COVID-19 on Alzheimer’s patients, Barrow scientists will analyze robust data on the health outcomes of this patient population before, during, and after the pandemic. Specifically, they will evaluate the socioeconomic variables associated with these health outcomes to identify patterns in vulnerable Alzheimer’s patient populations.

“Studying health outcome disparities in vulnerable patient populations is critical to informing public policy and the delivery of health care in future health emergencies. The results of this study will impact Alzheimer’s patients across the globe,” said Brad A. Racette, MD, FAAN, Kemper and Ethel Marley Professor and Chair of Neurology at Barrow Neurological Institute.