ST. LOUIS ( -- A recent Washington University study uncovers African Americans may be twice as likely than whites to develop Alzheimer’s.

The findings suggest possible race-linked variations on how the disease develops and arises. 

Dr. John Morris, professor of neurology and director of the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s disease Research Center, looked at the make-up of research volunteers nearly 15 years ago. Morris said it was 97 percent white, meaning they were learning about Alzheimer’s disease only in whites and not others racial groups.

Brain health

Morris launched an initiative to dive into the lack of knowledge about the disease in African-Americans.

Morris then began by diversifying the center’s pool of study participants. He and colleagues examine biological data from more than 1,200 people.

The study uncovered blacks develop less of a brain protein called tau.

Morris said elevated tau has been linked to confusion, brain damage and memory loss, but having lower levels of it did not protect blacks from those problems. 

“These differences are meaningful and may really indicate different approaches to diseases, including Alzheimer’s and hence we, the researchers need to do a better job to making certain that our research volunteers are divers and represent the community,” said Morris.

Morris told News 4 the study raises the question that there may be racial differences on how the disease develops and treatment for different races.

"African Americans have other factors besides the biology that could make them at risk for other illnesses,” Morris said.

He added a history of life-long discrimination could cause stress and it strains the brain.  

Morris said they selected African Americans in the St. Louis Metro, They're the largest underrepresented in research.

Going forward, Morris said they plan to look at Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and everybody to participate in research.

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

News 4 Reporter

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