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UT Health receives $15M to conduct San Antonio's new Heart and Mind study

A picture of a lamp post on the grounds of UT Health San Antonio with UT Health San Antonio banners on the sides of it.
Josh Peck
The campus of UT Health San Antonio

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has received a five-year, $15.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the San Antonio Heart and Mind Study, an extension of the original San Antonio Heart study conducted between 1979 and 2006.

“The original study enrolled participants ages 25 to 64,” said Claudia Satizabal, the study’s principal investigator and associate professor of population health sciences.

“The participants returned for follow-up visits, which means we have information about them from their midlife," she said. "This is precious, unique data that is hardly ever available, and it now enables us to employ a life-course approach to dementia because we have this information.”

San Antonio researchers are getting the band back together, in a way. They’re reaching out to people who participated in a groundbreaking 1979 study on heart disease and diabetes in the Latino population to see if they’d like to enroll in a new study.

Of the more than 5,000 participants who were included in the San Antonio Heart Study, about 3,000 are still alive, according to a search of death records by UT Health.

“We will look for cause of death, any potential diagnosis that was registered and whether they were part of Medicare. We will use as much information as we can to answer questions about who ultimately develops dementia,” Satizabal said.

Older Latinos are at increased risk of dementia, and researchers at UT Health have conducted landmark research to find out why.

More than 5 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s in the United States, and that figure is expected to triple by 2050. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley are teaming up to search for new treatments for this devastating disease, and possibly a cure.

"South Texas is about 80% Hispanic. Our city is about 65% Hispanic. Hispanics on an average have a 50% higher risk of developing dementia. And unfortunately, the risk is pretty high," said Dr. Sudha Seshadri, professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio and founding director of the university’s Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Seshadri spoke at a TPR Think Scienceevent in June. "If we don't do anything — if we as a group don't do anything — one in three of us will develop dementia at some time before we die. And that's just unacceptable."

Past research on these subjects has been done using largely European American participants, and Seshadri said it’s essential to explore aging and its associated diseases in people of all races and ethnicities.

“We believe the San Antonio Heart and Mind Study will fill that gap. Studies like this are vital to understand what is unique about Hispanic populations and their risk, both in terms of genetic and environmental factors." she said.

The study will also compare those who lived in different neighborhoods and had varying levels of socioeconomic status.

Researchers said finding answers to help Latinos in San Antonio will be helpful to everyone in the community.

"Typically, it is by studying populations that haven’t yet been studied that we find answers,” Seshadri added.

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