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Year in Review 2021

Looking back at the past year

In 2021, the United States continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus global pandemic, but vaccines brought us hope. More than half of the US population received vaccinations, and billions of doses were administered worldwide. Juneteenth became a federal holiday. The FDA approved aducanumab for use in Alzheimer’s disease, which raised controversy.  

At the Mesulam Center, research continued and the number of telemedicine patients increased. In-person research picked up in February for the primary progressive aphasia study. By July, all study participants could come in person. 

March 11, 2021 marked a year since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. A few weeks later, on March 26, the center accomplished an all-day virtual Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) conference with more than 350 participants. The conference shared research and knowledge about PPA and provided group support sessions to people living with PPA, as well as their families and caregivers. In May, the center hosted another major virtual event, the 27th Annual Alzheimer Day, attracting over 500 registrants. The day highlighted recent center research and offered the perspectives of individuals living with dementia and their families through the Quality of Life Symposium

Center researchers published novel findings on PPA, one of which was featured in the US News & World Report. One study found that PPA leads to a decline in language skills, but not memory, even when the underlying pathology of PPA is Alzheimer's disease (read the full study here). Another study found that the buildup of tau protein in the brain predicts the amount of future cognitive decline over one year in individuals with PPA caused by Alzheimer's disease.

In June, when the FDA announced the approval of aducanumab, a drug developed by Biogen to remove amyloid from the brain, the news was greeted with mixed reactions. It was the first medication approved in 18 years for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, which offered hope. Mesulam Center physicians shared information on why this new drug approval is controversial and the main facts at this point in time.

In July, the Alzheimer’s Disease P30 Research Center (ADRC) received funding for its sixth five-year cycle since 1996 from the National Institute on Aging. This distinguishes the Mesulam Center as one of a group of 33 ADRCs at major medical institutions across the US. Robert Vassar, PhD, and Sandra Weintraub, PhD, are co-principal investigators.

At the end of September, the SuperAging study was awarded a $20 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The award will expand the work of Emily Rogalski, PhD, and Changiz Geula, PhD, to establish an international multi-center SuperAging consortium with sites in the US and Canada. 

In October, the new Northwestern Medicine Neurobehavior and Memory Clinic opened. It provides additional space and a calming atmosphere to best serve individuals with dementia and their families.

Throughout the year, the center engaged with the community. Smaller online and in-person events were held with community partners, including South Loop Village and the Atlas Center. The center’s signature Buddy Program has begun celebrating its 25th year and was renamed in honor of the Glen and Wendy Miller Family, who have generously supported it. Borna Bonakdarpour, MD hosted Musical Museum, an hour of live music and conversation for persons living with dementia, through the Northwestern Music and Medicine Program. 

Resilience is a key theme threaded throughout the events of 2021. Center staff, faculty, research participants and caregiving families have persevered through unique challenges of the pandemic. We extend our gratitude to them. 


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