San Antonio is getting a big boost as a research site for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, the progressive memory-loss conditions afflicting more than one in 100 Texans.

Dr. Sudha Seshadri has been named the founding director of UT Health San Antonio’s new Glen Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases. Seshadri, an internationally recognized expert on Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke and vascular brain injury, will oversee all activities of the institute, and connect with local and national scientific and lay communities.

Bess Frost, a researcher and assistant professor at UT Health San Antonio’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, said the Biggs Institute will provide comprehensive care for patients and families and advance research to create effective therapies for these diseases.

“The institute has both clinical and research arms. It is the only Alzheimer’s institute for clinical care and research in South Texas,” Frost said.

The Alzheimer’s Association will announce grants to fund two new researchers at UT Health in September, added Meg Barron, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association San Antonio & South Texas Chapter.

Anna Campbell Sullivan, a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor at UT Health, understands the challenges of Alzheimer’s for patients and families.

Sullivan was drawn to UT Health from Johns Hopkins University last year by the promise of the Biggs Institute, she said.

“The idea of the institute is to create a mecca in South Texas to really start to address tahe devastating issues of the disease – not only for research and to prevent those forms of dementia that are preventable, but to have another vital resource for patients and caregivers,” she said.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a problem most folks don’t want to think about, until and unless they must. However, it takes a terrific toll. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.5 million Americans have it.

“In the state of Texas, an estimated 350,000 people have Alzheimer’s,” Barron said. “Just in the San Antonio area we have 8,000 to 10,000 involved in our different programs, but up to 80 percent of those showing signs of dementia are not being currently diagnosed.”

A diagnosis is just the first hurdle. The Alzheimer’s Association serves as a resource center to help people.

While there are some good residential care centers for folks requiring assisted living, there aren’t enough, and costs could be high, Barron said.

On average, people with the disease live about 12 years.

“Residential care can run from $3,000 to $7,000 a month, and most places have only a few Medicaid beds that fill up very quickly. Twenty-four-hour care in the home is also extremely expensive,” she said.

As Hurricane Harvey roared towards Texas, she was among the many working hard to help hurricane evacuees with Alzheimer’s or similar diseases.

“We got a team of our staff and volunteers into every one of the evacuation centers in Houston,” she said.

Barron added more first responders need training in caring for dementia patients. She’s hoping legislators can come up with extra funding in the next session.

Meanwhile, science continues to push boundaries to battle the disease.

Frost is studying tangles of tau proteins found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s and other disorders.

“We have found that toxic tau causes changes in the architecture of your DNA. Some drugs already approved by the (Food and Drug Administration) for other conditions may stop that from happening. We have made a lot of progress in this direction in the last two years and are very hopeful,” she said.

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