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Why Do Our Brains Betray Us?
The BRAiNS Program

by Jeff Worley

David Wekstein can't ever count on a good night's sleep.

"My phone might ring at midnight, at 3 a.m., anytime really. And I have to be ready, along with other researchers here in the ADRC (Alzheimer's Disease Research Center), to get moving," says Wekstein, associate director of UK's ADRC and Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

The most recent caller was a close friend of someone in the BRAiNS (Biologically Resilient Adults in Neurological Studies) program who had just died. Within an hour of the call, the body was on its way to the University of Kentucky, where researchers immediately performed an autopsy. Both the caller and his friend were part of a group of older Lexington-Fayette County residents who have agreed to donate their brains after they die to help researchers learn more about Alzheimer's disease.

Most agree to participate in the control group because they have personal knowledge of Alzheimer's. They've lost a relative or a friend to the disease, which afflicts an estimated 4.5 million people in the United States over the age of 65, including an estimated 60,000 Kentuckians.

Jim Geddes, a UK associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology, says that because the brain deteriorates so quickly after death, it's vital that an autopsy be performed as soon as possible. "The support of family and friends has been tremendous. We are often able to do an autopsy within three hours of death," Geddes says. "This does mean coming in at all hours of the night sometimes, but luckily we have a dedicated group of neuropathologists and researchers who do that."

Since it opened its doors in 1985, UK's ADRC has diagnosed and followed hundreds of older people with non-treatable memory disorders—mostly Alzheimer's disease. Wekstein has directed the BRAiNS program since its beginning in 1989.

But studying the brains of Alzheimer's patients alone is not enough, Wekstein says. "We can study Alzheimer's brains for the next 20 years, but if we don't study brains of people who don't have the disease, we can't draw valid conclusions." This is why in 1989 he began recruiting people for a control group. To date the center has recruited over 700 normal older persons, many of whom are at high risk of developing Alzheimer's disease because of their family history and other reasons. All of these subjects have agreed to donate their brains at their death.

"The Sanders-Brown brain bank is one of the most respected and highly regarded in the country," says UK pharmacologist Eric Blalock, whose research is based on brain samples he receives from the ADRC. "Very few Alzheimer's disease research centers have the kind of rapid-response team we have."

For additional information on BRAiNS, contact Wekstein at 859/323-6040 or at

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For more information about Alzheimer's disease clinical trials at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, call 859/323-6729 or visit

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