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New grant to help advance Alzheimer's disease research

A $6 million grant from the National Institute on Aging will help investigators with UTHealth advance Alzheimer's disease research. (Photo by Getty Images)
A $6 million grant from the National Institute on Aging will help investigators with UTHealth advance Alzheimer's disease research. (Photo by Getty Images)

A five-year, nearly $6 million grant from the National Institute on Aging will allow investigators with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Biomedical Informatics to use artificial intelligence (AI) to advance Alzheimer’s disease research.

The grant was awarded to Degui Zhi, PhD, associate professor at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics, who will collaborate with fellow researchers for the project titled “Genetics of deep learning-derived neuroimaging endophenotypes for Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Alzheimer’s disease puts a tremendous burden and increasing demand on patients, caregivers, and health care resources,” said Zhi. “I look forward to working with a very talented research team to better understand this devastating disease and determine new treatment options.”

Researchers plan to develop new, deep learning-based approaches for deriving Alzheimer’s disease-relevant biological markers from neuroimaging data and associating these markers, known as endophenotypes, to genetic data.

Endophenotypes are biological traits or markers that are easier to detect than genetic sequences. With their approach, Zhi and his colleagues expect to discover new genes relevant to Alzheimer’s disease. This discovery may lead to understanding the molecular basis of the disease and new potential treatment options.

“While neuroimaging has been a target for genetic association studies for Alzheimer’s disease research, existing approaches generally focus on relatively few imaging phenotypes developed by neuroradiologists. Our goal is to use state-of-the-art deep neural networks to discover intricate patterns from large volumetric neuroimaging data that link genes with Alzheimer’s disease,” Zhi said.

Additional collaborators on the project from the School of Biomedical Informatics include Han Chen, PhD; Luca Giancardo, PhD; and Assaf Gottlieb, PhD; along with Myriam Fornage, PhD, with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Shuiwang Ji, PhD, with Texas A&M University, is also part of the research team.

Zhi and Chen hold joint appointments with UTHealth School of Public Health. Zhi, Fornage, Chen, and Gottlieb are also faculty members of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

“This investigation is only possible with an incredible multidisciplinary team. The researchers on the team have extensive expertise in bioinformatics, brain MRI data analysis, and genome-wide association study in Alzheimer’s disease, and deep learning,” Zhi said.

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