August 8, 2018

New grant will help retrieve brain MRI scan data

National Institute on Aging awards more than $3 million to Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study for 5 years

SEATTLE, August 8, 2018—
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) announced its intent to commit $3.73 million over the next five years to the ACT Imaging Records project. The project will retrieve more than 2,000 clinical brain MRI scans from the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study.

A joint project of the University of Washington (UW) and Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, ACT is an ongoing prospective cohort study of a random sample of older adults enrolled from Kaiser Permanente Washington.

Christine Mac Donald, PhD, an associate professor in the UW School of Medicine’s Department of Neurosurgery, will serve as contact principal investigator for this project.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to gather existing MRI scan data from this well characterized cohort of older adults,” Dr. Mac Donald said. “As clinical scan quality has improved over the last few decades, clinical care of older adults more often includes neuroimaging to screen for potential brain changes that may be contributing to the patient’s condition. Usually these scans exist only with the medical records, and do not make their way into medical research. We decided to change that—to recapture these imaging exams and integrate them with the rich data from the ACT study to improve our understandings of older adults.”

Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, the executive director of Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute and a senior investigator there, will serve as principal investigator of the Kaiser Permanente subcontract. Dr. Larson serves together with Dr. Mac Donald and Paul Crane, MD, MPH, a professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at UW Medicine, as multiple principal investigators on this project. Dr. Crane is also an affiliate investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

Dr. Larson founded the ACT precursor Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Registry in 1986 and launched the prospective ACT study in 1994-1996. He and Dr. Crane now lead the ACT study efforts.

What MRI data will add

“The initial vision for this line of research was that there was incredible value in situating a prospective cohort study in a health care delivery system,” Dr. Larson said. “Over the years, ACT has capitalized on pharmacy data, clinical laboratory data, billing codes, ZIP codes, and medical records from what was then Group Health and is now Kaiser Permanente Washington. This incorporation of MRI data is a natural extension of that overarching research strategy.”

Dr. Crane echoes that enthusiasm. “ACT has really solidified itself as a leading resource of high-quality data to address some of our most important questions about aging and dementia,” Dr. Crane said. “We are thrilled we will soon have the ability to fill some of these knowledge gaps with the imaging data from this study and share this data with the research community.”

The project includes a new partnership with Arthur Toga, PhD, a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) and director of the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Neuroimaging and Informatics in Los Angeles. Dr. Toga directs the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (LONI), which houses research data for dozens of research studies.

“Our plan is to work closely with Dr. Toga to ensure that our scan data are made available to researchers around the world who want to address questions about aging brains,” Dr. Larson said. “We have made important advances ourselves with ACT study data, and we have a terrific track record of ensuring that other experts outside of ACT are able to use our data as well. This new initiative with Dr. Toga and LONI continues this tradition of sharing our data broadly to ensure maximal scientific impact.”

“It’s an exciting time for dementia research,” Dr. Crane said. “In particular, because of hard work over many decades, and especially because of the generosity of our participants and their families, we have a well-developed infrastructure in place to examine brain tissues of ACT participants who die and come to autopsy. It will be really interesting to compare brain MRI data taken during life with the extensive brain tissue data procured at autopsy from this group. There is quite a bit we still do not understand about aging and dementia, and the combination of MRI data during life and brain tissues from autopsy promises to be a rich resource to further our understanding.”

“This is an important milestone,” said Dr. Mac Donald. “I am honored to have the opportunity to partner with the ACT study team on this project. We are grateful to the NIA for this opportunity and can’t wait to share what we learn with the research community and with the public at large.”

About Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) improves the health and health care of Kaiser Permanente members and the public. The institute has conducted nonproprietary public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems since 1983. Government and private research grants provide our main funding. Follow KPWHRI research on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn, or subscribe to our free monthly newsletter. 

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 12.4 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to:

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Amelia Apfel
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