Penn Alzheimer's Disease Center

What is the Penn ADC?Penn Alzheimer's Disease Center and Penn Memory Center

The Penn Alzhiemer's Disease Center (ADC) is the research arm of the Penn Memory Center. Established decades ago, the Penn ADC is a nationally recognized research center that is funded by the National Institute on Aging.

To learn more about the ongoing research in Alzheimer's disease at Penn and the open Alzheimer's studies in need of participants , click on the Penn ADC logo at right.

Why is the ADC important?

Connect with the Penn Alzheimer's Disease Core Center and Penn Memory Center on YouTubeIt is estimated that Alzheimer's disease (or AD) costs the nation more than $100 billion a year. Delaying the progression or onset of AD by 5 years, this could save more than $40 billion. Currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) - and its umbrella agencies such as the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) - is the largest public funder of AD research. The University of Pennsylvania Alzheimer's Disease Core Center (or ADCC) was funded by the NIA in 1991. It is the first and only NIA funded ADCC in the Delaware Valley.

Thanks to this research investment, the NIA has positioned scientists such as those at Penn to exploit the spectacular advances of the past 15 years to develop more effective therapies for AD and related disorders. For more information about center services, current studies and trials, the ADC newsletter and other items, visit

For more information about the NIA's research initiatives for AD and related dementias, continue scrolling to read an overview prepared by Dr. John Trojanowski.


J.Q. Trojanowski, M.D., Ph.D.

The Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA

The Dementias of Aging Program of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stimulated landmark advances in the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and related disorders. To augment studies of AD and related disorders, the NIA established 5 Alzheimer's Disease Centers (ADCs) in 1984. The initial ADCs were Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers (ADRCs), and they were mandated to include an Administrative, a Clinical and a Neuropathology Core as well as multi-year research projects and one year pilot projects. Subsequently, an Education and Information Transfer Core was added. In 1990, the NIA introduced a second type of ADC designated Alzheimer's Disease Core Centers (ADCCs). Although the ADCCs contained the same Cores and pilot projects as the ADRCs, they were not designed to include multi-year research projects, but to provide core support for research funded by NIH or foundation grants. Currently, the NIA has committed support for a total of 28 ADRCs/ADCCs, while 2 additional ADCs receive temporary funding. Moreover, each ADC must compete openly for continuation with other applicant organizations every 5 years thereby enabling new AD research groups to join the network of ADCs. In 1991, the NIA invited competitive applications for ADC linked Satellites to study urban or rural minority AD patients, and these Satellites continue as integral components of many ADCs. While the ADCs are a key mechanism to promote AD research, the NIA also implemented additional strategies. For example, the AD Cooperative Study program was begun in 1991 to conduct clinical studies of new treatments for AD, and many ADCs continue to participate in this ongoing program.

Following the implementation of these and other NIA efforts to foster basic and clinical studies of AD and related disorders, progress in understanding neurodegenerative dementias has been made with breathtaking speed and the accomplishments of investigators working in collaboration with the ADCs have been spectacular. For example, enormous progress has been made to improve the accuracy of procedures for the antemortem and postmortem diagnosis of AD. Moreover, other neurodegenerative dementias previously confused with AD now can be diagnosed more reliably. Thus, while senile plaques (SPs) and neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) are the diagnostic brain lesions of AD, abundant Lewy bodies (LBs) in nerve cells are pathological hallmarks of an AD-like disorder known as dementia with LBs (DLB), which is distinct from AD. However, classical AD also may be associated with many LBs, and this LB variant of AD (LBVAD) is the most common subtype of AD. As a result of improvements in the clinical and neuropathological diagnosis of AD, it has been possible to conduct more rigorous research on well-characterized AD patients as well as on their tissues and other biological samples, which has led to improved diagnostic tests for AD.

Since the establishment of the Dementias of Aging Program by the NIA, there have been tremendous advances in understanding AD and related neurodegenerative diseases. For example, the amyloidogenic peptide known as the amyloid beta peptide that forms the amyloid fibrils in the SPs of AD was sequenced and the gene encoding the precursor protein for this peptide (known as the APP gene) was cloned. Other advances have come from studies of the paired helical filaments (PHFs) that form AD NFTs AD, including the discovery that PHFs are abnormal forms of tau proteins (known as PHFtau). Further, mutations in genes on chromosomes 21 (APP), 14 (PS1) and 1 (PS2) were shown to cause familial AD, and this has led to the generation of animal models of AD. Later, a variant of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene (ApoE e4) was identified as a genetic AD risk factor, and tau gene mutations were shown to cause an AD-like familial dementia. Additionally, it was shown that alpha-synuclein proteins are the building blocks of LBs in Parkinson's disease, DLB and LBVAD. Moreover, the ADCs now are able to pool data on large numbers of subjects through the recently funded National AD Coordinating Center (NACC) to facilitate multi-center data sharing and research. Indeed, the NACC has established significant momentum since it was funded in 1999, and it supports cooperative studies among the ADCs that will increase the pace of advances in AD research. Finally, the NIA recently announced a new research initiative with additional funding to accelerate studies of vaccine therapy for AD.

It is estimated that AD costs the nation >$100 billion/year and if the progression or onset of AD could be delayed by 5 years this could save >$40 billion, which is >40 times more money than the current $800 millions spent on AD research by the entire NIH, the largest public funder of AD research. More importantly, the NIA has positioned scientists now to exploit the spectacular advances of the past 15 years to develop more effective therapies for AD and related disorders.


Thanks are expressed to Dr. C. Phelps for providing some of the historical information summarized here.