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Researchers will study risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease across multiple ethnicities

January 12, 2022

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Researchers at Sunnybrook are getting ready to launch a study called CAMERA – Canadian Multi-Ethnic Research on Aging. The goal of this new study is to better understand risk factors for dementia among diverse ethnic groups in Canada. These groups, which include individuals of South Asian and Chinese descent, are currently under-represented in studies of dementia.

“Almost everything we know about risk for dementia is based on individuals of European descent,” says Dr. Jenny Rabin, one of the principal investigators of the study and a scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI). Collaborators on the study include neurologist Dr. Sandra Black, as well as Dr. Maged Goubran and Dr. Walter Swardfager. They are all scientists at SRI.

“Because Canada’s population is incredibly diverse, there is a need to better understand the prevalence of risk factors for dementia among different ethnic groups. This knowledge will ultimately allow us to develop more effective dementia prevention and intervention strategies for Canada’s diverse communities,” says Dr. Rabin.

The study will enrol 100 adults aged 60-80 from three ethnic groups: individuals of European descent, individuals of South Asian descent (from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal) and individuals of Chinese descent. The 300 participants will be followed in the study for five years.

One of the criteria to enrol in the study is being free from significant cognitive impairment. “This will allow us to study the earliest markers of risk of cognitive impairment, which is important because interventions applied early in the course of a disease are likely to be most effective,” says Dr. Rabin, “The idea here is to intervene while the brain is still healthy rather than after there is substantial damage.”

The Sunnybrook study will be the first in Canada to comprehensively investigate whether ethnic differences in known risk factors for dementia lead to disparities in brain and cognitive health. “We are most interested in studying modifiable risk factors for dementia, since these factors are amenable to intervention,” says Dr. Rabin. “These include physical inactivity, high body mass index, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stress, among others. These risk factors may differ across ethnic groups and may lead to differences in rates of dementia across groups.”

Research participants will come to Sunnybrook once a year for five years to participate in various assessments. This will include a brain imaging scan to assess brain structure and function as well as cognitive testing to assess memory and other thinking abilities. Participants will also complete questionnaires assessing social and environmental factors that might influence one’s risk of dementia. The researchers will also test blood samples for markers of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular disease and neurodegeneration.

To fund the study, Dr. Rabin received a Young Investigator Operating Grant from the Alzheimer's Society of Canada, and the team also received a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

To learn about enrolling in the study, please email: rabinlab@sunnybrook.ca.


Media contact:

Samantha Sexton
Communications advisor
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
samantha.sexton@sunnybrook.ca