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School of Nursing $3.9 million grant to study connection between oral microbiome, Alzheimer’s disease
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Illustration of Virus or bacteria attacking the human brain

The Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing has received a $3.9 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study the contribution of the oral microbiome to Alzheimer’s disease risk. 

While Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of Americans, the cause of the disease is not fully understood. Several risk factors are associated with the disease, including demographic, genetic, lifestyle, medical, environmental, psychiatric and infectious, says assistant professor Irene Yang PhD, RN, who is leading work on the R01 grant. Among the infectious factors associated with Alzheimer’s is periodontal disease, one of the most common conditions of the oral cavity.

Irene Yang

Irene Yang, PhD, RN

“There is a growing interest in the connection between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” Yang adds. “Yet, the mechanism underlying this association is unknown, and most studies have focused on a limited number of periodontal disease-associated organisms. A major obstacle in the field is the lack of a cross-kingdom – bacterial, viral and fungal – characterization of the oral microbiome of periodontal disease related to Alzheimer’s disease risk.”

Yang and research team member Whitney Wharton, PhD, an associate professor at the School of Nursing, will seek to fill the gap with this research. The study will examine the oral bacteria, viruses and fungi present in cognitively normal individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and investigate relationships among periodontal disease-associated microbiome features, inflammation, social determinants of oral health, and Alzheimer’s disease spinal fluid biomarkers over two years.

The study will leverage Wharton’s existing National Institutes of Health-funded cohorts, including racially diverse individuals at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Generated data will inform more extensive NIH-funded studies and provide one of the largest and most comprehensive characterizations of the oral microbiome in a racially diverse sample of individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Note: This research is supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01NS133809. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing  

As one of the nation's top nursing schools, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University is committed to educating visionary nurse leaders and scholars. Home to the No. 1 master's, No. 3 BSN, and No. 6 DNP programs nationwide, the school has been recognized as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League of Nursing. The school offers undergraduate, master’s, doctoral and non-degree programs, bringing together cutting-edge resources, distinguished faculty, top clinical experiences, and access to leading health care partners to shape the future of nursing and impact the world's health and well-being. Learn more at

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