William Harris, PhD
(Sioux Falls, SD) – The first wave of new research that could help dementia patients is now underway at Sanford Research/USD under the direction of William Harris, PhD. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded Dr. Harris with a $729,352 grant over two years to determine whether low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acid increase risk for dementia.
Over the next two years, Dr. Harris' team will examine nearly 7,500 blood samples taken from participants in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), the largest study of mental function in postmenopausal women in the world. The investigation will determine if high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, obtained from the regular consumption of oil-rich fish such as salmon, sardines, albacore tuna and herring, could delay the onset of dementia, as well as improve overall brain function and mental health in postmenopausal women. Dr. Harris will receive his first samples for the study later this month.
"Without this grant, we would not be able to learn the extent to which omega-3 levels in blood are related to loss of cognitive function as women age,” Dr. Harris said. “If our idea is correct, middle-aged women would be strongly encouraged to increase their intake of fish or fish oil supplements with the hope of delaying a loss in mental function as they age.”
Dementia is a broad term for many of the ailments that afflict mental health, such as Alzheimer’s disease. In 2005, the U.S. spent an estimated $100 billion providing care for three million patients with dementia. By 2011, current costs are expected to double, and by 2050 Medicare costs associated with dementia may be as much as $1 trillion. Dr. Harris’ team hopes to discover treatments and preventive strategies to reduce the onset of such afflictions. This research focuses on mental health, but the data gathered in this study could also be applied to study the effects of omega-3 fatty acid consumption on cardiac and bone health and on the development of type-2 diabetes.
“Dr. Harris’ research grant opens up many new avenues of knowledge and treatments,” said Ben Perryman, PhD, Vice President of Research at Sanford. “The dedication of researchers like Dr. Harris’s team allows Sanford Research/USD to improve the lives of not only our patients, but also contribute to the health and well-being of all patients afflicted with these disorders.”
About Sanford Research/USD
In 1998 a non-profit research organization was formed between Sanford Health and the University of South Dakota. In 2007, a transformational gift of $400 million by Denny Sanford has allowed for an expansion of current research goals and will enable Sanford Research/USD to become one of the premiere research institutions in the United States and the world. Over the years, Sanford Research/USD has made significant contributions to the research areas of cardiovascular health, women’s health, cancer biology, disparities, pediatrics, metabolism/nutrition and genomics.
For more information, visit www.sanfordhealth.org/research.