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SC research institutions collaborate to advance comprehensive Alzheimer’s disease research, medical discoveries and education

Courtesy of Midlands Biz

As part of a statewide effort to address Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias more effectively and with the help of $10 million in legislative funding, Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina are combining their expertise and resources to create a first-of-its-kind research center in South Carolina. This collaboration is part of a multi-institutional effort to establish the first federally designated Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) in South Carolina.

“As the population ages and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia increases, solutions rooted in collaboration and coordination are essential to reach a future free of these devastating diseases,” said Heather Snyder, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association vice president of medical and scientific relations. “This effort will translate research advances into improved statewide access to diagnosis, care and treatment for the more than 95,000 South Carolinians living with Alzheimer’s and their families.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, Gov. Henry McMaster further paved the way for the collaboration when he ceremonially signed bill  S. 569, championed by S.C. Sen. Katrina Shealy, S.C. Senate President Thomas Alexander, S.C. Rep. Mark Smith and S.C. Rep. Sylleste Davis, which requires a comprehensive statewide plan to address issues related to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Part of this strategic approach includes the pursuit of federal ADRC status through the collaborative efforts of the state’s top research institutions. The goal is to establish a highly visible, accessible, trusted and coordinated source of information so that patients and families of all income levels are better connected to resources, research opportunities and more when enduring the challenges brought on by these diagnoses.

“As an academic health system, we are uniquely positioned to engage in cutting-edge research aimed at understanding the underlying causes of disease, developing new treatments and improving diagnostic tools,” said Lori McMahon, Ph.D., MUSC vice president for research and professor of neuroscience. “Our multidisciplinary team, including fundamental and clinical scientists, neurologists, geriatricians, psychiatrists and more, collaborate to advance the understanding of our brains and how to keep them healthy.”

For example, MUSC is home to the Carroll A. Campbell, Jr. Neuropathology Laboratory, founded in 2009 thanks to a generous gift from the family of South Carolina’s 112th governor who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. By collecting donor brain tissue from individuals with neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, as well as age-matched healthy brains, this critical biorepository provides valuable information about the rate and cause of these disorders in South Carolina and serves as a link between scientists and clinicians to generate discoveries that can change patient care.

“At USC, we talk often about the power of interdisciplinary research to solve big problems by addressing multiple dimensions at once. The same goes for collaborations among research institutions,” said Julius Fridriksson, Ph.D., USC vice president for research. “By combining the unique strengths of USC, MUSC and Clemson and focusing them on supporting South Carolina families suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, we will multiply our positive impact on the Palmetto State.”

Alzheimer’s disease research has been at the forefront of the priorities of the USC School of Public Health, the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine. In 2019, researchers received National Institutes of Health funding to establish the Carolina Center on Alzheimer’s Disease and Minority Research. USC also is on the forefront of neuroimaging research and provides technology to the federal Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). Additionally, Leonardo Bonilha, M.D., Ph.D., at USC’s School of Medicine in Columbia, is leading the newly created Rural Brain Health Center, a statewide initiative aimed at improving access to care, diagnosis and management of memory and cognitive problems.

Partnership is critical to providing access to research participation and care statewide, especially to some of the most underserved areas. Access to research opportunities close to home means that the latest information, cutting-edge treatments and the newest strategies for prevention are at families’ fingertips.

“Our Institute for Engaged Aging successfully brings together experts in psychology, computing, bioengineering, social sciences, nursing and other disciplines to solve complex problems related to public health,” said Tanju Karanfil, Clemson University senior vice president for research, scholarship and creative endeavors.

The Clemson University Institute for Engaged Aging (IEA) in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences is committed to research, teaching and community outreach that promote healthy aging across the lifespan regardless of social, economic or health status. The institute recently expanded its Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) study – the largest study of its kind to date – which investigates methods for the prevention and early detection of dementia. Additionally, the IEA has several National Institute on Aging-funded studies focused on the early identification of cognitive decline in adults 65 and older, a critical area of need among aging populations.

South Carolina is one of 20 states deemed “neurology deserts,” meaning there is a shortage of neurologists that is only expected to grow as cases increase. A dedicated center in South Carolina would offer citizens support with obtaining a diagnosis and medical management, information about Alzheimer’s and related dementias, services and resources, opportunities for volunteers to participate in clinical trials and studies and research registries and support groups and other special programs for volunteers and their families.


Statement from S.C. Senate President Thomas C. Alexander (R-Oconee and Pickens counties) on the state’s investment in resources to caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias:

“Our three research universities working together with the Alzheimer’s Advisory Council on a comprehensive statewide plan to address this dreaded disease speaks to what makes South Carolina a special place. We are committed to putting the well-being of our citizens first by providing informed clinical care, early detection and caregiver support services to individuals and families coping with Alzheimer’ disease and related dementias.”

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Tamia Sumpter

Tamia is a driven senior undergraduate Bioengineering student currently enrolled at Clemson University. With a strong foundation in her field, she has honed her skills through hands-on experience in research and development at Eli Lilly & Company. During her time in the ADME department, Tamia contributed significantly by working on siRNAs and their applications in finding In Vitro-In Vivo Correlation (IVIVC). Looking ahead, Tamia has set her sights on a promising career in law. She aspires to specialize in Intellectual Property Law, with a particular focus on serving as in-house counsel for leading medical device or pharmaceutical companies. Her enthusiasm for this role is palpable as she prepares to embark on her legal journey! She is also a proud member of the Omicron Phi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., PEER Mentor for Clemson PEER/WiSE, and currently serves as the President of Clemson Bioengineering Organization (CBO). With her unique blend of scientific knowledge and legal interests, Tamia is poised to make a meaningful impact in the healthcare and life sciences industries.