Columbia Scientists Awarded $3.97M to Study Link Between Alzheimer’s and Periodontitis

Panos N. Papapanou, DDS, PhD

A new research grant from the National Institute of Aging/National Institutes of Health, titled “A Longitudinal Study of Periodontal Infections and Alzheimer’s Disease: The WHICAP Ancillary Study of Oral Health,” was awarded to researchers from Columbia University. The five-year, $3.97 million grant is jointly led by James M. Noble, MD, MS, an associate professor and neurologist at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Panos N. Papapanou, DDS, PhD, professor of dental medicine, chair of the Section of Oral, Diagnostic and Rehabilitation Sciences, and director of the Division of Periodontics at the College of Dental Medicine.

James M. Noble, MD, MS

The upcoming work builds upon an earlier project funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, led by the same principal investigators, that studied participants from the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP). WHICAP, now in its fourth decade, is led by Richard Mayeux, MD, MSc, chair of Columbia’s Department of Neurology. It is a longitudinal study of cognitive aging that has serially assessed more than 5,000 people with respect to medical, social, and health behavior histories, medical exams, neuropsychological testing, and multi-modal biomarkers (including MRIs and plasma indicators of Alzheimer’s disease). In an ancillary oral health study from 2013 to 2016 spearheaded by Noble and Papapanou, researchers conducted whole-mouth clinical exams, assessed periodontal bacterial plaques using next-generation sequencing, and determined the level of serum antibodies to oral bacteria for 1,130 WHICAP participants.

In the newly funded project, the investigators will invite back the oral health study participants for a follow-up examination, reassess their oral status and levels of oral bacteria, and determine the association between periodontitis severity and progression, biomarkers of systemic inflammation and cognitive decline, and incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“It is one of these precious opportunities one can have as faculty member at CDM,” said Papapanou, “to be able to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of accomplished scientists across our medical center to tackle an extremely interesting research question: whether periodontal infection/inflammation is etiologically associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.”

The team of investigators involved in this project also includes Philip De Jager, MD, PhD, the Weil-Granat Professor of Neurology; Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, MD, associate professor of medicine; Adam Brickman, PhD, professor of neuropsychology; Yian Gu, MD, PhD, MS, assistant professor of neurological sciences, and Bin Cheng, PhD, professor of biostatistics at the Columbia University Medical Center.