FORT WORTH, Texas — Doctors have an idea of how your brain works, but they want to know more, especially as it relates to Alzheimer's and how the disease develops over time.
It’s a disease that isn’t playing fair. One in two Black families are impacted by Alzheimer's and right now, doctors aren't sure why the disparity exists.
For that reason, a first-of-its-kind Black Alzheimer’s brain study is taking off at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. The center is investing $7 million into the research and is now on the search for Black volunteers who are over the age of 50.
“When they come up with a cure, I want to say, ‘Hey this brain right here was a part of that study and the solution. They saw something in it that is helping to make people have better quality lives'," said Donna Clemons, a volunteer for the study.
It’s easy to look at Clemons and see why she’s so invested in the new study because, well, she’s a Black woman. Her reason for having doctors look at her brain is not just about her skin color. She says she does not want to go through a long goodbye if her son, cousins, nieces, or nephews were to ever be diagnosed with the disease.
“We don’t know if it's heredity, if it will affect me, or any other any other members of the family," Clemons said.
Clemons has already had to give a long goodbye to her mother who passed away from Alzheimer's in 2019. She was 94 years old. Clemons says it was painful to see her mom - whom she described as a "do-it-herself," strong woman - slowly lose her memory as well as her ability to cook and clean.
Another reason Clemons is doing the study is simple. She wants no one else to live through that kind of confusion and hurt by grieving the loss of a person who is still living.
“This is available. I can take action," she declared.
Dr. Leigh Johnson is leading the way at The University of North Texas Health Science Center with this study. She is hoping the high interest she’s seen so far with Black men and women wanting to get an MRI, PET scan, or answer her questions will continue. Dr. Johnson is looking for 1,000 volunteers; so far she has about 250 signed up.
The reality is less than 5 percent of African Americans are represented in health research.
“It’s really difficult. We want to be able to have all the answers for everyone, and to have the treatment and cures to stop this disease,” said Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson understands that there can be some medical mistrust within the African American community because of historical mistreatment in health care. She says can’t change the past, but is looking to change the future. Being able to understand the brain functions and development of the volunteers who sign up may help Dr. Johnson and others on her research team design a cure so Black families are no longer disproportionately impacted by the disease.
All volunteers are compensated for his, her or their time. For more information on this study, click here.