As a leading advocate for women’s brain health, the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) at Cleveland Clinic is committed to funding cutting-edge women-focused research into Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Since 2016, we have contributed $5.35 million to fund 48 studies across 17 leading institutions, catalyzing groundbreaking discoveries and positioning its grantees to secure an additional $83 million in government and foundation funding. We sat down with several past WAM Research Grant recipients who shared how support from WAM at Cleveland Clinic has impacted their research and their careers.

Dr. Anshu Agrawal received a WAM Research Grant in 2019 to support her work studying the role of inflammatory immune mechanisms in sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease. The results of this study were published in a high-impact journal.

“The key takeaway is that we should always analyze our data based on sexes as males and females present diseases differently and thus therapeutic targets may be different between the sexes,” Agrawal said. She has continued her women-focused research, discovering in a 2021 study differences in immune response between males and females to COVID-19.

Agrawal credits her 2016 grant with starting her career in Alzheimer’s disease research, explaining how the seed grant from WAM was also instrumental in being able to generate preliminary data, which acted as the basis for NIH grants that furthered her work.

Dr. Dean Ornish echoed this idea, saying “A paradox of conducting research in areas that have never been done before is that it’s challenging to receive funding. It’s a catch-22: the NIH might say, ‘Why should we fund a study when everyone knows it’s impossible?’ But without the funding, one cannot determine if it is possible.”

Ornish used his 2020 WAM Research Grant to fund a randomized controlled clinical trial to determine, for the first time, if comprehensive lifestyle changes may reverse the progression of mild cognitive impairment and dementia due to early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The results of this study will be published next month.

Dr. Liz Chrastil, a 2019 grantee, studies changes in navigation ability–an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease–during menopause. In her work she has observed brain changes even in participants who don’t exhibit performance changes, which could be useful in detecting the disease early.

Chrastil also highlights the connections with other scientists that have grown out of her relationship with WAM at Cleveland Clinic. “Seeing all the other fantastic research has helped me develop ideas, learn from their experimental design, and provided insight into questions that I had,” she said. “In short, this experience has been transformative.”

WAM Team with 2019 WAM Research Grant recipients (Erin Mulcahy Stein, Executive Director, WAM at Cleveland Clinic; Richard Isaacson, M.D.; Jessica Caldwell, PhD; Maria Shriver, WAM Founder; Erin Sundermann, PhD; Lisa Mosconi, PhD; Dmitry Propokenko, PhD; Laura Cox, PhD; Sandy Gleysteen, Executive Producer of Content, Programming and Strategic Projects)

Dr. Kendra Ray received WAM support for her Beyond Listening study, which showed that a 6-week, music-based intervention led to significant reduction in neuropsychiatric symptoms for both male and female participants, with a significant quality of life improvement observed in female participants.

Dr. Dmitry Prokopenko and Dr. Rudy Tanzi received one of the first WAM seed grants in 2016. They also shared the findings of their work studying the genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Strikingly, we have identified mutations in four genes on autosomes which were associated with AD risk and showed opposite effects in women vs men,” said Prokopenko. “Such sex-specific genetic findings will help to better understand potential differences between men and women related to AD development and facilitate precision medicine.”

As a recipient of seven WAM Research Grants, University of Arizona’s Dr. Roberta Diaz Brinton is one of our longest research partnerships. She has published numerous articles with groundbreaking findings moving the narrative forward on women and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Overall, WAM funding has significantly advanced a key WAM goal – preventing Alzheimer’s disease in women. In addition to advancing data science and medical informatics to promote women’s brain health, all of our rigorously peer-reviewed research reports are open access which enables both women and their medical care providers to have access to WAM-supported findings,” Brinton said. “Results of our research provide real world data critical to clinical decision making for sustaining brain health and reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease in those at greatest risk, women.”