SC working to establish first Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in the state

South Carolina is in the process of establishing what researchers and advocates say would be a groundbreaking venture for Alzheimer’s care in the state.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 9:05 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina is in the process of establishing what researchers and advocates say would be a groundbreaking venture for Alzheimer’s care in the state.

On Thursday, World Alzheimer’s Day, a Senate panel convened a group of researchers to hear the latest on the state’s efforts to create a designated Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, also known as an ADRC.

Of the 33 designated Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers across the country, two are in North Carolina and one is in Georgia, but none are in South Carolina.

“What will certainly be the most important turning point for families facing dementia in our state in the last two decades, and possibly for the next 20 years as well,” Taylor Wilson of the Alzheimer’s Association South Carolina Chapter described during the meeting at the State House on Thursday.

Wilson called dementia potentially the most underrecognized threat to public health in our lifetime and said South Carolina is particularly vulnerable.

“In order for our state to meet the needs of those with Alzheimer’s by 2050, the number of geriatricians we have has to nearly triple. In 2017, South Carolina was one of 20 states deemed neurology deserts,” she said.

It’s why she and researchers believe South Carolina is a fitting state to establish an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, a collaboration in the works from the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina, and Clemson University.

“There are great levels of expertise at all three institutions, but those are often complementary to each other, so we are stronger together than we are separate,” MUSC Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department Chair Dr. Steven Carroll said.

The three schools are currently in the process of applying for this designation as an ADRC from the federal government through the National Institute on Aging. They plan to submit their application in June 2024.

By getting it, it opens the state up to more research and funding opportunities.

That, in turn, expands access to groundbreaking clinical trials for South Carolinians with Alzheimer’s, which could then lead to more prevention, earlier diagnoses, and more complex care.

“This Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is a lifeboat for people in the Palmetto State,” Wilson said.

But before the federal government decides if it will award this designation to South Carolina, it advised the state to have its center and research already up and running.

So lawmakers put $10 million in the current state budget to get it started.

“If you don’t have the facilities or the equipment to do the work or do the research, people aren’t going to want to come here, and we need to attract good doctors and good research directors so we can study the disease. We want to do it right,” Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington and a lead advocate for Alzheimer’s research and support at the State House, said.