2017 - 2018

Healthy Brain Study Annual Report

Over the past year, the Emory Healthy Brain Study has worked to discover biomarkers that will predict Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. We reached some incredible milestones in 2017. Learn more about the data we've collected, the team who helped us get there, and the participants who made it all possible.

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If you had a chance to change the world, would you?

Welcome to the Emory Healthy Brain Study. This is your opportunity to partner with leading physicians at Emory University and help make discoveries that will change our understanding of aging and age-related diseases for generations to come.

It's your contribution to a better future.

Emory Healthy Brain Study: Dr. Lah

Our 3,000 Goal

3,000 registrants. That's the number we're aiming for, and we're proud to say we're 19% of the way there. Our participants come from all ages, races, and walks of life. Because of the diversity required for this study, we utilized several different methods to reach potential candidates.

927 Projected Visits For 2018

Projected Visits

We’re combining what we learned in 2017 with new streamlined processes and technologies to partner with even more participants in 2018.

Second Visit

Follow-Up Visits

To better understand how our bodies change as we age, we ask that participants return every two years for updated testing and measurements. We are excited to announce that our very first participants have started coming in for their second visit.

CSF Journey

Making a Little Go a Long Way

We collect several different samples during a study visit. Two of the most important samples, blood and cerebral spinal fluid, contain vital information to our health and provide a platform for many different types of testing. To maximize their use, each sample has a set process for how it will be broken down for various tests as well as storage for future testing.

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Arrives on dry ice Arrives at room temperature 400microliters Thaw, Divide 0 CPT Tubes Place in centrifuge PAXgene Tube Refreeze to store for future testing EDTA Tubes Frozen at -80C for blood RNA testing later CerebralSpinal Fluid Blood Place in centrifuge 400microliters The lumbar puncture is performed to access cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). We only collect 20mL, just more than 1 tablespoon, but that small sample goes a long way for testing. It generally takes only about an hour for your body to naturally replenish the amount of fluid taken. The fluid is collected into two tubes. Once collected, it’s put on dry ice until processing. Once the samples are received by technicians, they are thawed so they can be divided. The smaller portions of the main sample is known as an aliquot. Half of the CSF sample is separated in to 24 smaller aliquots. We will use these aliquots for initial testing. Half of the CSF sample is kept whole and stored at -80C. When needed, it can be thawed and aliquotted for testing. 8 cell preparation tubes (CPT) are filled from the blood sample. These tubes contain a chemical designed to separate certain cells from the whole blood. Once the blood has mixed with the CPT reagent, the tubes are placed in a centrifuge and spun for 25 minutes. This will cause the blood to separate leaving the desired peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). These cells play an important role in our immune system and are often studied in research. One PAXgene tube is filled with blood. This tube contains a chemical that helps with testing the DNA in the blood. Two EDTA tubes are filled with blood. These tubes contain a chemical that helps separate plasma and buffy coat (white blood cells and platelets) from the rest of the blood. The tubes are put in a centrifuge for 10 minutes to separate the plasma and buffy coat from the blood sample, which are divided up into smaller samples for storage and testing. The blood draw is one of several samples collected during an Emory Healthy Brian Study visit. We collect 100mL of blood, which is about 1/5 of what's taken when donating blood. Once collected, the samples are kept at room temperature for processing

Unlike genetics, the study of individual genes, genomics is the study of genomes. A genome is the complete set of DNA within an organism. These DNA sets direct the production of proteins, which ultimately make up organs and tissues as well as carry signals between cells. By studying differences in DNA sets, we hope to identify predictors for Alzheimer's disease.


Proteomics is the large-scale study of proteins. Proteomes, a combination of the words protein and genome, are the whole set of proteins produced or modified by an organism. We study proteins because of their importance to the body. Not only do proteins do most of the work in our cells, they are also involved with other functions like DNA replication and moving molecules from one part of the body to another. Amyloid plaques have long been associated with Alzheimer's disease and are formed when collections of proteins fold into shapes that allow them to stick together. When these collections of proteins start sticking together, they build up and are thought to play a role in neurological diseases.


Simply put, glycomics is the study of sugars in an organism and despite often having a bad reputation, sugars are necessary to stay alive. They act as an energy source for muscles, brain, and nervous system. Since sugars affect numerous systems within our bodies, it is important to examine their role in cognitive decline.


Metabolism, the chemical processes that occur within living organisms, produces metabolites during or at the end of the process. Metabolomics is the study of chemical processes involving metabolites. The unique chemical fingerprints left behind by various cellular processes can be studied to better understand the condition of that system or organism. Through metabolomics we hope to better understand the complexities of how Alzheimer's disease forms.

Innovation at Work

As our knowledge grows, so do our methods and technology. Learn more about the innovative advancements being implemented into our research.

EBIP MRI added

EBIP & MRI added

We’ve added a dedicated Research MRI suite for our Emory Brain Imaging Project (EBIP).

78% Mobile Traffic

Mobile App Launched

With our own mobile application, study participants who want to contribute further can now easily complete additional assessments via their mobile devices.

iPad Eye-Tracking

Ipad-Based Eye Tracking

Imagine a way to detect memory decline that's automated, language-free, and can be done using a device commonly found in many homes. Our researchers are making it a reality with the development of eye tracking tests that utilize the front facing camera of an iPad.

5 Visits Per Day

Efficiency and Growth

We are now able to have 5 visits per day. Our team has grown from 4 CRCs to 8, and we are about to hire 2 more.
Meet the Team

Cardiology Technology

New Cardiology Tech

We’ve expanded our resources for performing cardiovascular testing. With a dedicated cardiology exam room and backup cardiology tech, we’re able to work more efficiency and provide more comfort to our participants.

Shortened Visit Length by 30 minutes

Decreased Visit Length

We have decreased the number of images we take during neurovision, which has shortened the length of the visit by 30 minutes.


Meet the people who made it all possible – our participants. Their willingness to volunteer their time to our research has led to some astounding discoveries.

More about Participants

Participants by Age

It can take years for symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias to manifest. By working with candidates before they exhibit symptoms, we hope to identify biomarkers that will enable us to predict disease. With an effective means of prediction, we can then focus more on treatment and even prevention.

70-79 60-69 50-59 < 50 0 0 0 0
Study Participants by Age
Age 70-79 22%
Age 60-69 44%
Age 50-59 32%
Age < 50 1%
< 50 50-59 60-69 70-79 AGE

Participants by Gender & Race

We strive for diversity within the Emory Healthy Brain Study. It’s important that our research discovers how different people from all walks of life show signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. So far, a large portion of our volunteers has been Caucasian females. To diversify our candidate pool, we used Facebook to reach other races and genders. By increasing our focus on African-Americans and male audiences with highly segmented social media advertising, we’re helping to bridge the gap in race and gender with our current volunteers.

Registrants by age
Registrants by race

Participant Feedback

“The staff was very pleasant and professional. They did an exceptional job keeping things moving - there was no waiting period between procedures.”

Lisa, Study Participant

“Wow. Everyone was very nice. Explaining everything in details. Answer all questions. Glad to be apart of the study. Hopefully making a difference in other people's lives.”

Sheila, Study Participant

“I was anxious at first but the staff put my fears to rest.”

Dinah, Study Participant

“Everyone was so pleasant and professional. There was no wasted time as each part of the testing was well paced and coordinated.”

Debbi, Study Participant

“Exceptional Staff, everyone went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable. Study does take a lot of time but I feel it was well worthwhile.”

Beth, Study Participant

“Everything went like clockwork – a good experience and all my contacts were very professional.”

Rebecca, Study Participant

“Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the study.”

Michael, Study Participant

“Overall, this was a great experience that allowed me to give back to the community and contribute to the research base for combating Alzheimer's. Every staff member was professional, cordial and made me feel comfortable during each procedure. Today's visit was seamless and I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in Emory's Healthy Brain Study!”

Larry, Study Participant

Participant Story:Brenda Jefferson

New to clinical research, Brenda hopes her participation will serve as an inspiration to other women in the African American community.

Health History Questionnaire

Participation in the Emory Healthy Brain Study begins with the completion of our Health History Questionnaire. This data collection process helps us better understand how we age and age-related diseases. It’s not uncommon for study participants to report a variety of health conditions, and we consider these factors when looking for predictive biomarkers.

Have you ever been diagnosed with Diabetes?

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Have you ever been diagnosed with High Blood Pressure?

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Have you ever been diagnosed with High Cholesterol?

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Participant Body Mass Index

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Registrants by location
28% of participants are from Atlanta

Participants by Location

Emory’s Brain Healthy Center, home to the Emory Healthy Brain Study, is located in Atlanta, Georgia. Because of our community involvement and the need to see our Emory Healthy Brain Study volunteers in person, a vast majority of our participants are from the metro-Atlanta area.

Participant Story:Michael Edwards

With a family history of dementia and witnessing the affects it has on others, Michael knew it was time to do his part in the fight against it.


The variety of measurements and samples collected provide us with a wealth of data points to examine.

More about Procedures

Breakdown of Biospecimens and Tests


Measuring an individual’s gait helps predict things like health status, the number and frequency of falls, and the possible need for rehabilitation. However, not much is known about the gait profile of our patients. Therefore, we ask you to complete various tasks while walking, including counting backwards and carrying objects, to help us analyze overall physical function and health. We look at:

We have incorporated new cognitive tests that are being administered via a mobile application that can be easily downloaded onto any smartphone.


In the EHBS, we administer various cognitive and neuropsychological tests that measure aspects of brain function, including memory, language, visuospatial skills, attention, and higher-order thinking. These tests are validated measures used in both research and clinical practice:

  • to help characterize individual cognitive abilities, such as strengths and weaknesses
  • to monitor changes in functioning that may occur during the process of normal aging or as a result of disease or injury
  • to better understand brain-behavior relationships

Repeated assessments using these same measures can help us understand the changes that occur across the developmental lifespan of mid-life and older adults. When we compare test scores to other aspects of health, we can elucidate the consequences of certain genetic and lifestyle practices, helping us to identify fruitful areas for health intervention and treatment.

We have also made some recent additions to our cognitive testing battery. A year into the study, we were given permission to use a non-published research instrument to study learning and memory that has strong relationships to Alzheimer’s disease pathology. Furthermore, we have incorporated new cognitive tests that are being administered via a mobile application that can be easily downloaded onto any smartphone. As a participant, you can be your own cognitive tester even after you go home!

Eye Tracking

Some of the tasks you complete during the study are to detect very early changes in cognition, likely before you would even notice any altered function. One of these is the eye tracking task we use to help us study how you look at images. Simply the way you naturally view images can give us insight into how you are processing information. We hope this type of technology will help us minimize the number of other tests we ask you to complete during your visit. Experience has told us that people are much more relaxed viewing pictures than they are counting backwards or remembering long lists of words. If you’ve had a visit with us within the last two years, you likely completed this task using a desktop monitor. We are currently in the process of streamlining our technology, and by the time you return, this task will be administered via iPad. The hope is that participants will eventually be able to perform this test remotely!



Health History Questionnaire

We ask all study participants to complete the Health History Questionnaire (HHQ) when they first enroll in our study. The information that participants provide is critical for our efforts to study aging as part of the Emory Healthy Aging Study, and, more specifically, cognitive aging as part of the Emory Healthy Brain Study. In addition to basic demographic information, the information participants provide about their lifestyle, medical history, family history, and other life experiences, is invaluable. We are learning more about how daily lifestyle choices, like smoking, physical activity, and the foods we eat, influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing about a participant’s past medical and family medical history helps researchers to understand how different medical conditions in individuals and families influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Other information provided by the HHQ offers researchers additional avenues to identify potential factors that either increase or decrease the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

PHQ-8 and GAD-7

In older adults, depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease are often seen together, but the nature of the relationship is not clear. Determining how depression and anxiety are related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages will clarify whether depression and anxiety simply co-occur with Alzheimer’s disease, or whether they act to increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.


Answers to questions on this survey are important to understand and interpret research using the microbiome sample. The microbiome can be affected, usually transiently, by things like acute illness, a course of antibiotics, or a recent colonoscopy.

We are learning more about how daily lifestyle choices, like smoking, physical activity, and the foods we eat, influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Diet Questionnaire

Dietary habits can influence the chances of developing risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Alzheimer’s disease itself. In conjunction with other data collected during the EHBS, dietary data will allow researchers to study how nutrients and dietary patterns are related to the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Post-Visit Survey

We are currently in our third year of the study. Many advancements have already been made to our process, thanks in large part to comments from our constituents. However, we are continually looking to improve the experience for current and new participants. This survey, which was implemented after our first year, is a way for us to gather constructive feedback about what a visit really looks like from their perspective, and do everything in our power to make it enjoyable!



Healthy arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. To get the job done, arteries have to stay flexible, free from blockages, and dilated to allow more blood flow when needed, like during exercise. Unhealthy arteries that are stiff, blocked, or do not dilate enough when necessary, increase the chances of having high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. As part of the Emory Healthy Brain Study, we are measuring arterial health using painless ultrasound testing, to learn how it affects the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related disorders.

Arterial Pulse Wave Analysis

This is also known as the arterial stiffness test, and it is used to measure the stiffness of your blood vessels. This also measures your carotid pulse.

Flow-Mediated Dilation & Endo PAT

This test measures the blood flow in your arm using an ultrasound.

Carotid Intima-Media Thickness (CIMT)

This scan is a non-invasive test that scans the carotid arteries in the neck to detect plaque buildup and increased thickness of the artery wall.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

This test is a standard measurement of your heartbeat and heart rhythm.



The final procedure conducted at the biennial visit is retinal imaging. For those who completed the procedure in the early part of the study, you will be happy to learn that we have decreased the number of images that we capture by more than half. This means it will probably take longer for your eyes to dilate than it will to take the pictures!

This procedure holds great promise and could offer many advantages, both as an early screening tool and as a way for us to provide ongoing monitoring. Although we are still in the early days of validating the technology, we hope that the images will give us an early glimpse of both when and if amyloid plaques begin to accumulate. If we can successfully monitor the start and progression of amyloid burden by way of retinal imaging, we may be able to use a tool such as this to replace recurring lumbar punctures. By extension, we should also be able to monitor decreases in amyloid burden. This means clinicians could intervene quickly with promising therapies developed to halt or reverse amyloid buildup and monitor the effectiveness of the treatment without resorting to costlier procedures such as PET or lumbar punctures.

Blood, Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF), and Microbiome

Blood, Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF), and Microbiome

The primary goal of the Emory Healthy Brain Study is to find new biological markers to predict Alzheimer’s disease. To help achieve that goal, we ask study participants to provide blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and microbiome samples Each of these samples provides unique information about a person’s health.


Many substances can be measured in blood, which makes blood samples critical for research aimed at understanding Alzheimer’s disease. The information gained from blood samples can give insight into inflammation, infection, cholesterol levels, kidney and liver function, and sometimes help to predict the course of disease. We hope to find a blood test or collection of blood tests that will allow us to predict Alzheimer’s disease.

Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF)

Just as we are looking for a blood marker for Alzheimer’s disease, we are also looking for new markers in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that can predict Alzheimer’s disease. CSF is produced by the brain and bathes the entire brain and spinal cord. CSF is special because it allows clinicians and researchers to detect and measure substances that tell us about brain health that cannot be measured in blood.

A portion of each participant’s blood and CSF samples are used up front for standard measures that a primary care doctor might also check, like blood cell counts, as well as standard Alzheimer’s disease research measures. These inform researchers about the overall health of participants and help understand new research results. Another portion of each sample is stored in a secure freezer and catalogued for future research as we continue to make new discoveries.


The microbiome is the collection of microscopic organisms that live in your body. The intestines alone are home to trillions of microscopic organisms and even newborns come into the world with a robust microbiome. Human development, lifestyle, and aging all affect the microbiome. The microbiome contributes to your health by protecting you from harmful bacteria, helping you to digest foods, regulating metabolism, and producing substances beneficial to your health, like vitamins. Research is demonstrating that healthy lifestyles can contribute to a healthy microbiome, which in turn can contribute to brain health and health in general. We plan to use participant microbiome samples to study what role the intestinal microbiome plays in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.


By identifying predictors of Alzheimer’s disease, we may be able to slow, treat, or even prevent it someday. Supporting the researchers is a dedicated team that leads participant visits, collects samples, and participates in outreach.

More about Research

Alzheimer’s Disease vs. Dementia

Dementia is a generic term for severe deterioration of memory and other cognitive abilities. It can be caused by many different disorders that impair the function of the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and accounts for 60-80% of cases.1

The development of Alzheimer’s disease should not be considered a part of “normal aging”, although advanced age is the greatest risk factor. The most common symptom in the beginning is trouble remembering new information. Other symptoms include mood and behavior changes, confusion, disorientation, and eventually patients have trouble speaking and walking. As the disease progresses, the severity of symptoms increases, and eventually leads to death.

When a patient with cognitive problems goes to the doctor, the first thing the doctor does is rule out other possible causes, some of which can be treated (such as infections, interactions of certain medications, vitamin deficiencies). When all other possible causes have been ruled out, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is made.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of cases.

Physical Changes in the Brain

Evidence currently indicates that the root cause of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain. Plaques are created when beta-amyloid protein collects in between nerve cells in the brain, and tangles are a result of tau protein build-up within cells. This change in structure causes many other things to go wrong, and eventually leads to the deterioration of the nerve cells and their connections, which in turn causes dementia.

Current clinical trials are designed to prevent beta-amyloid and tau from accumulating, and to preserve the function of nerve cells. There are many potential ways to approach this therapeutically, but we don’t yet know which ones are most likely to lead to successful treatments; this is why we need a variety of clinical trials.

Enrichment Criteria

Enrichment Criteria

Family History

Individuals who have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop the disease as well. It’s also important to note that multiple family members with a diagnosis increases this risk even more. Typically, if a disease is seen in multiple generations of a family, there may be a genetic component contributing to its development. Researchers have found several genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Apolipoprotein E-e4, or APOE-e4, is the first gene identified. These so-called “risk genes” only increase the chances, but do not allow physicians and researchers to definitively say that an individual will develop the disease.

Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes

If you think about the way the body is designed, it’s not hard to imagine that cardiovascular health could have a large impact on the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The heart is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to our organs, and the brain has one of the densest concentrations of blood vessels in the body. Thus, when a conditions compromises this ability, either by damaging the heart or the blood vessels, the brain doesn’t receive as much oxygen and function decreases. These conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also suggested that the presence of plaques and tangles is more likely to lead to Alzheimer’s disease if the blood vessels have been previously damaged.

African Americans and Latinos

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, African Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease when compared to Caucasians, and those individuals with Latino ethnicity are one-and-a-half times more likely. It is extremely important for the quality and accuracy of our data and conclusions that we include participants from all different backgrounds in this study.


1. What is Alzheimer’s? (2007, January 7). Retrieved May 1, 2018, from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

Meet the Study Team

Jessica Udry

Jessica Udry

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Grace Jackson

Grace Jackson

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Tara Villinger

Tara Villinger

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Christina Lomba

Christina Lomba

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Chelsea Walker

Chelsea Walker

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Rolando Sanchez

Rolando Sanchez

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Kate Sanders

Kate Sanders

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Luke Maschinot

Luke Maschinot

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Zahra Manji

Zahra Manji

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Naje Simama

Naje Simama

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Andie Kippels

Andie Kippels

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Christy Banks

Christy Banks

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