CU Alzheimer's and Cognition Center Research

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, affecting more than 5 million Americans. At the current pace and without an obvious cure or medical breakthrough on the horizon, the number of Americans diagnosed with AD will triple to almost 13.8 million by 2050. At the University of Colorado Alzheimer's and Cognition Center, we combine innovative laboratory and clinical research with world-class clinical care in our efforts to help improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

Laboratory Research

Laboratory research is research conducted in a controlled environment (laboratory), where scientists can look at tissues and cells under a microscope to learn about cell behavior and genetic differences, test proteins to identify potential treatments, and use animals to mimic diseases, such as Alzheimer's, to test treatment response before testing them in humans. Laboratory research is vital to understanding Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, and finding better ways to prevent and treat them. When a promising treatment is found in laboratory research both in cells and in animal models, the next step is testing the treatment in a clinical trial. 

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials involve an intervention, where researchers are studying something, such as a drug or a device, that could produce a potential change in the way a disease or medical condition is detected, prevented, managed, or treated. The intervention can be brand new, or it could be something that has been used before to treat other diseases but may now be able to used for a different disease. The purpose of clinical trials are to study the 1. safety of the intervention, and 2. the efficacy, or effectiveness, of the intervention. Clinical trials go through multiple phases before the intervention is determined to be able to be made available to the public.

Watch this video to hear Dr. Potter discuss one of the drugs currently in development at the CU Alzheimer's and Cognition Center that is in the clinical trial process. 


Observational Research

Observational studies do not involve an intervention (i.e., a possible new drug or treatment). Instead, people volunteer their time to let researchers observe and study certain behavior patterns and collect biological samples such as blood samples, brain images through MRI or PET scans, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples. Observational studies usually involve reviews of a person's health history, surveys and questionnaires based on the question the researcher wants to study, cognitive testing, and biosample collection. Observational studies can be, but are not always, longitudinal, meaning the same person returns at a certain point in the future to do the same tasks again, so that responses can be compared over time.

The observational studies we do here at the CU Alzheimer's and Cognition Center aim to carefully characterize a group of aging adults so that we can better understand what may put certain individuals at risk for later cognitive decline and how to prevent it. Our current observational studies follow aging adults – both symptomatic participants, meaning adults who have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia, adults with down syndrome, and asymptomatic participants, meaning healthy aging adults with no current symptoms.