Published November 3, 2011
The University at Buffalo has opened the region’s first comprehensive center devoted to Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
The Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center offers a full range of clinical services for people in Western New York and Southern Ontario.
It also conducts research to identify Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers and better understand its genetic mechanisms in order to develop new treatments.
The center is based in UB’s Department of Neurology at the Jacobs Neurological Institute in Buffalo General Hospital.
Kinga Szigeti, MD, PhD—a subspecialist in genetics and cognitive diseases who completed her neurology residency at UB—was recruited back to Buffalo from Baylor College of Medicine to head the center.
Among its many strengths, she says, is the center’s multidisciplinary approach: Patients are evaluated by a team of physicians and health care providers, including neurologists, neuropsychologists, social workers and nurses.
“This center is a state-of the-art resource for families. We incorporate the most up-to-date diagnostic and treatment guidelines into patient care.”
The center’s four-step evaluation process, which takes place over several weeks, is designed to differentiate between normal aging, mild cognitive impairment and various types of dementia.
In the first step, the patient sees a neurologist, provides a detailed medical history (with family members’ help) and undergoes blood tests, brain imaging and comprehensive neuropsychological testing.
The multidisciplinary care team then confers on the patient’s case.
At a follow-up visit, the neurologist explains the diagnostic results and treatment options with the patient and family.
“Current treatments do not cure Alzheimer’s,” says Szigeti, “but they can help people stay at a good, functional level for a longer period of time if they are diagnosed early.”
In the final step, a social worker assesses the patient’s living situation and counsels the patient and family on how best to manage the disorder. The counselor also sends the recommendations to the referring physician.
Szigeti researches the genetics behind Alzheimer’s disease.
She has nearly $1 million in funding from the Alzheimer’s Association and a prestigious Patient-Oriented Research Career Development award from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health.
“Alzheimer’s is a very heterogeneous disorder with a strong genetic component,” she says. “Our hypothesis is that a genetic background will enable us to better classify subgroups of the disease and show us pathways for possible new medications.”
Genetic studies, Szigeti adds, will help aid the design of treatments that can either delay onset or prolong the earlier stage of the disease, when symptoms are very mild and patients function at a relatively high level.
“If you can delay the age of onset by five years, or even by two years, that would be so much better for the family and for public health.”
Szigeti conducted postdoctoral research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School and molecular genetics research at Baylor College of Medicine.
“We are thrilled to have recruited Dr. Szigeti to direct the center, which is unique in this community and for which there is an essential need,” says Robert Sawyer, MD, professor and interim chair of the UB Department of Neurology.
“She is a great researcher and teacher as well as a superb clinician.”
There are approximately 55,000 Alzheimer’s cases in Western New York, a figure that may not reflect the full extent of the disease, according to the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Between 4.5 and 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and within 30 years that number is likely to at least double, according to the national organization.
To learn more about the UB Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center, or to make an appointment, call 716-859-3484 Monday through Thursday.