Our innovator spotlight is Dr. Sid O’Bryant, entrepreneur and Executive Director for the Institute of Translational Research and Professor of Pharmacology & Neuroscience at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Dr. Sid O’Bryant is working to bring practical solutions to the marketplace and into the hands of providers. He was recently awarded a $45 million research grant to continue his work that examines the disparities in how neurodegenerative diseases affect people of different ethnicities. This grant is likely the largest award ever given to a Fort Worth-based researcher in history.
What disease costs the United States more than cancer and heart disease combined? What disorder is the number one fear of senior citizens?
Did you get it right?
Alzheimer’s is prevalent and costly, yet the medical community lacks basic knowledge on this devastating disease. No new treatments have been approved for Alzheimer’s in almost 20 years. Imagine slowly forgetting your most cherished memories, your loved ones, even yourself with no way to stop this painful progression. That is the experience of 5.8 million patients and their families currently in the United States.
What Exactly is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s includes the loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities which interfere with daily life. But what exactly causes Alzheimer’s? Dr. O’Bryant explains the biology behind the cause of Alzheimer’s disease:
“The two things that people in the field have thought are the main causes of the disease are plaques and tangles. Plaques are amyloid proteins that stick together and tangles are tau proteins that also stick together. And the plaques and tangles form in the neurons instead of outside of them. And so these are the two things that people in the field have thought are the main causes of the disease.”
Goals in Research
Dr. O’Bryant is using precision medicine advancement made in the fight against cancer to inform his work in Alzheimer’s. Through long-term research funded by his grant, he hopes to understand how the disease affects different racial and ethnic groups and then develop early detection techniques to equip providers with better diagnostic tools.
He explains that “neurodegeneration means that certain areas of the brain have shrunken. The nerve cells have basically died. And in Alzheimer’s disease, they oftentimes die in a very specific pattern.”
Combating Health Disparities in Research
Research in healthcare of racially marginalized groups is often minimal and takes away from a holistic understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s:
“The vast majority of research on Alzheimer’s is among non-Hispanic whites – over 95% of the research. So what we’re proposing to do is the very first ever study to actually look at the biology of Alzheimer’s disease among Mexican Americans here in Fort Worth, because our research shows at this point that it may be different.”
This study includes three groups in Fort Worth including LatinX, Black and non-latinx white. Researchers will conduct comprehensive questioning and exams, including MRI scans of the brain every 24-30 months: “We can look at what occurs before disease markers even begin. So we can really get at what are the risk factors, protective factors, biology that initiates these things so that we can better identify ways to treat and prevent these diseases. We can do so in a manner that doesn’t just account for the biology of the patient in front of you. It’s about the environment. It’s about diet. It’s about all of the things that surround you as a person. And so we will be able to understand the impact that environmental issues and sounds have – we will be looking at depression and anxiety.”
Fort Worth is the Future
With research based here in Fort Worth, Dr. O’Bryant is the first to lead a study on Alzheimer’s with three major demographics, which makes Fort Worth the perfect place for this research:
“One of the interesting things about why do this here, why Fort Worth, why Texas is because we currently are at the ethnic and racial makeup of where the United States will be in 2050, we’re already there. We already look like what the United States will be. So, we’re, we’re in the ideal place to do this.”
Alzheimer’s: Complexity and Solutions
Drug approval for Alzheimers has a failure rate of 99.6% according to Pharmaceutical Technology. The last approved drug for Alzheimer’s was in 2003. Dr. O’Bryant underlines the importance of accepting complexity in finding treatments and researching Alzheimer’s.
“The biggest reason for a lack of any major strides in terms of treatments and even diagnostics of the disease is due to a lack of appreciation of the complexity itself. And, you know, it, it’s convenient to say, well, Alzheimer’s is X, Y or Z. That’s not Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not that simple.” He emphasizes that there is not one size fits all solution, ”oncologists, doctors and scientists decided to study the complexity of the disease. And that to me is the key. I firmly believe that the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease is the key to beating the disease.”
Hope For Patients and CX Precision Medicine
Dr. O’ Bryant has used his research and inventions to commercialize these solutions and get them to patients everywhere:
“One of the technologies that I’ve created is an Alzheimer’s blood test. I’m here to help patients, and in order to take this work to patients, there must be a company involved. My company, CX, is working very hard to advance my Alzheimer’s blood test to primary care docs, as well as other technologies, other blood tests, and technologies around therapeutics that I’ve invented.”
In establishing the name of his company Dr Sid O’Bryant alludes to the hope his company, his research, and his work is creating for patients and their families. In his own words, our friend, Dr. O’Bryant is “changing expectations of doctors, patients and family members. There is a hope for a brighter future for our patients. That’s why we named the company Cx, because we are changing expectations.”
Learn more about Dr. O’Bryant and his research here.
About the Author
Fatima Burney is a UNTHSC Innovation Ecosystems Intern and a Fort Worth native. She is a political science major and a first-generation college student at TCU, passionate about uplifting marginalized communities through advocacy and government work. She enjoys art & rollerblading and does henna.