Professor Receives $6 Million in NIH Grants to Study Air Pollution, Noise, and Dementia Risk
Jennifer Weuve, associate professor of epidemiology, has received two grants from the National Institute on Aging to explore links between environmental exposures and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).
The grants, which total more than $6 million, fund a four-year study on air pollution and community noise exposure as risk factors for ADRD, as well as a five-year study on whether the olfactory system acts as a pathway for environmental toxicants to reach the brain and cause ADRD.
Few studies have determined if a combined exposure to air pollution and ambient noise amplifies one’s risk of cognitive decline and ADRD. In the Air-Noise-Dementia project, Weuve is focusing on the effects of combined exposure to aircraft noise and traffic-related air pollution, such as fuel combustion pollutants from tailpipes and dust generated by tire and break wear. She is utilizing data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project and the Parent Offspring Resilience and Cognitive Health study, two population-based cohort studies of older adults.
“This project will further advance our understanding of air pollution, noise, and ADRD by studying the effects of both exposures on brain structure and cerebrovascular disease that can be viewed on brain imaging,” says Weuve.
In the second project on olfactory pathways—the AERONoSE project—Weuve is a co-principal investigator with Jayant Pinto, professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine. This study, which grew from an SPH pilot study program, aims to shed light on whether the olfactory pathway serves as an underlying mechanism for toxicants to access the brain.
“Some pollutants might travel to the brain through the olfactory system—a direct anatomic connection from the nose to the brain—yet, there has been little study of this hypothesis in humans,” says Weuve. “The goal of the AERONoSE project is to investigate this olfactory pathway by estimating the effect of air pollution exposure on a suite of neurocognitive and olfactory outcomes in five well-characterized, longitudinal cohorts.” She says the study will leverage the brain autopsy data from these cohorts to examine how resultant neuropathology and direct deposition of particulate matter explain these relationships.
The findings from both studies could have major implications for public health by informing population-level strategies for preventing or reducing the burden of ADRD.
“If these exposures contribute to the development of ADRD, regulations and technological innovations could be used to reduce exposures and shift the population’s risk of ADRD downward,” says Weuve.
The studies build upon Weuve’s research interests on brain and body aging, and the health effects of environmental toxicant exposure. She is a co-director of Methods in Longitudinal Dementia Research (MELODEM), an NIH-funded initiative aiming at harmonizing analytic approaches across longitudinal studies of dementia risk or cognitive decline. She also serves on the executive board of the Society for Epidemiologic Research, as well as the editorial board of Epidemiology, the official, peer-reviewed journal of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE).