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Blacks are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s, but why?

Blacks are at higher risk for several health conditions in the U.S. This is true for heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and stroke, which are often chronic diseases. And it is also for Alzheimer’s disease, in which blacks have two times higher incidence rates than whites.

So, why do these disparities exist, especially in Alzheimer’s disease, which isn’t typically considered a chronic disease but a progressive one, or one that worsens over time?

Some researchers attribute the gap to both societal and systemic factors related to inequities in education, socioeconomics, income and health care access. Other factors such as stress, diet, lifestyle and genetics may also contribute. However, there’s a less-explored question in Alzheimer’s that could contribute to this disparity: Is the underlying biology of the disease somehow different in blacks and non-Hispanic whites?

I am a basic science researcher who studies racial disparities in Alzheimer’s disease. I have begun to uncover that the biology underlying the disease may not be the same in African Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

My laboratory is working on several projects to better understand the biology of Alzheimer’s disease in African Americans and how it may be the same or different in non-Hispanic whites. We will share our preliminary findings soon, as this work is necessary to help understand the root cause of this disparity. Even more important, this will help us to understand the disease for everyone.

I believe that many factors together contribute to health disparities in Alzheimer’s disease, and biology is one very worth exploring. Even when considering clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, blacks represent fewer than 5% of participants, whereas they represent about 13% of the U.S. population. That makes it hard to know if and how these potential therapies may work for blacks and other underrepresented groups. This makes it important to understand the biology of the disparities because it could impact the development and effectiveness of potential therapies.

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