Driving forces behind the study explain key components.
Two of the driving forces behind the Lakewood Ranch Study of Brain Health —Stephanie Peabody and Erin Dunn — agreed to collaboratively answer some questions from the East County Observer to shed more light on the study and why Lakewood Ranch was chosen for the effort.
Peabody is the founding director of the Academy for Brain Health and Performance and she has more than 20 years of experience as a clinician and program designer, consistently working to improve outcomes in brain health, development, aging, and performance. She conceived the Lakewood Ranch Study of Brain Health project and is responsible for oversight of its elements.
Dunn is a social and psychiatric epidemiologist with expertise in genetics and epigenetics. Her research laboratory uses interdisciplinary approaches to better understand the social and biological factors that influence brain health across the lifespan, with a focus on how these factors interact early in life.
Q — How could you see this study bringing business to Lakewood Ranch and perhaps building a physical presence at CORE (Collaboration Opportunities for Research and Exploration)?
A — We are a team of innovative brain health researchers seeking to understand, across the lifespan, the predictors of brain health and ways to promote brain health and optimize performance through evidence-based interventions. This is our central goal and mission. We imagine – based on the enthusiasm and visibility our research and innovation lab will generate locally, nationally, and internationally – that, for example, brain health stakeholders, including neuro-technology innovators, scholars and academic institutions, businesses and investors with whom we collaborate (to validate through clinical trials and test feasibility of brain health innovations with LWR and Gulf Coast residents) would be motivated to come to CORE, especially as it grows to become a hub for brain-health and performance promoting interventions. It may also be possible that companies working on other brain-health promoting interventions, who may not be directly affiliated with our initiative, will also want to come to CORE to be part of the “action.” It’s not hard to see the long-term potential of CORE being a “research park” where pioneering companies that work in the brain health space are launched and headquartered.
Q — What would it take for the study to either rent or build a headquarters in Lakewood Ranch for a physical presence? What would the function of such a building be?
A — One of the goals of our study is to follow Lakewood Ranch residents over time. In order to do that, we will need to have systems in place to track people across time (especially as they move into and out of the community) as well as research space from which to conduct the in-person interviews and brain health assessments we will engage in. For example, we plan to measure certain aspects of participants’ brain performance – such as their working memory – and therefore would need to have a place where people come and conduct these research assessments – or a space that would support functional neuroimaging and a space that would house physical fitness equipment for people to conduct assessments that would allow us to understand their heart rate variability and physical capabilities, which are important determinants of brain health. Although it’s too early to determine specific needs at this point, we could envision having physical space within CORE that would allow our team to “set-up shop” to carry out these comprehensive assessments.
Q — Obviously SMR is very committed to fundraising for this study. Will you be in the area educating the public about the study and holding fundraisers?
A — The Academy for Brain Health and Performance (ABHP) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) are working with Lakewood Ranch and Greater Gulf Coast community leaders to identify individuals, businesses, organizations and foundations who may have an interest in supporting the early phase of the initiative and its work. SMR, as a community leader, recognizes the potential impact to Gulf Coast residents, as well as economic development, and has made a $600,000 commitment toward the project. We are eager to hear from anyone who might be interested in contributing via large and small donations. Our website includes more details: brainhealthylwr.com.
Q — What would you consider the value to Lakewood Ranch overall as having its name attached to this study?
A — There are many benefits LWR and the greater Gulf Coast Region will derive from being part of Building a Brain Healthy Community Initiative. Most importantly is the potential impact on the lives, including brain health and overall well-being, of LWR residents, the gulf coast region, and indeed the world. New businesses may be attracted to come to CORE at LWR as a result of this work. LWR and Gulf Coast residents, from across the lifespan, will be invited to participate in the longitudinal study directly. Residents throughout the greater Gulf Coast, from Tampa throughout the southern tip of the region and beyond, will have the opportunity to benefit from the innovations brought to the Brain Health Innovation Lab, which will allow residents to learn more about their own brain health and what solutions and strategies may promote their brain health and optimize their performance. The entire LWR and Gulf Coast Region will be the first to benefit from the scientific discoveries generated from this initiative. By being involved at this early stage, LWR is on the ground floor of a multi-decade long-study and innovation lab that we hope will yield benefits for generations to come.
Q — What is your business plan?
A — To accomplish this ambitious work, we have launched a $1.6 million fundraising campaign to raise the seed-funds necessary to support the next phases of the initiative. Funds raised in excess of these goals will be used for activities to support the medium- and long-term goals of the project, including hiring additional management and study staff, purchasing study equipment, and collecting additional and more comprehensive pilot data. We will make efficient and effective use of funds raised and reduce overall operating costs through acquisition of in-kind support, donations from local, national, and global businesses, and through collaborations with Florida, Boston-based, and other universities world-wide. We will sustain this work by building and sustaining relationships with academic, industry, investors, entrepreneurs, and not-for-profit partners, as well as submitting and securing grants to federal, foundation, philanthropic, and other sources.
Q — Why now?
A — We are living longer than ever before. Life expectancy has grown significantly over the past two decades, thanks to advances in public health and medicine. Awareness of steps that can be taken to improve brain health and performance, across the lifespan, is at least a generation behind that of heart health. Historically, when our grandparents died of a heart attack or stroke, we understood it to be a part of getting older. Blocked arteries, high blood pressure and high cholesterol were considered a normal part of aging before 1948, when researchers began tracking the cardiovascular lives of several thousand residents of Framingham, Mass. The Framingham Heart Study (now more than 80 years old and still going) introduced the phrase “risk factors” to medicine and helped identify which prevention tactics work for heart health. Today, it’s the healthspan and lifespan of the brain we urgently need to understand. Compared to the heart and other organs in the body, relatively little is known about the factors that shape brain health and optimize daily performance of the brain. Advances in neuroimaging kicked off this new era of brain health by allowing scientists to see inside the living brain. Intervention studies on how lifestyle affects brain function are newer still. Many individuals mistakenly believe Dementia is a normal process of aging and that you can’t do anything about. In reality, a third or more of dementia cases can be delayed or prevented by lifestyle factors. To promote brain health and prevent brain-related concerns (such as Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Addictions, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Dementia, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease), which affect one out of every three people worldwide, breakthrough scientific discoveries are urgently needed. In fact, discovering the basis of brain health may be the most important medical challenge of our time. Through the Brain Health Study at Lakewood Ranch and the ("to be named") Brain Health Innovation lab, we aim to generate discoveries needed to enhance brain health globally.”