'Nun Study' moves back to Minnesota from Kentucky

(AP) - A famous study of Alzheimer's disease involving 678 nuns has moved from the University of Kentucky to the University of Minnesota.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported The Nun Study recently moved back to where it began in 1986 because of the retirement of its originator, UK researcher David Snowdon.

The study has tested nuns repeatedly for 20 years to analyze their mental and physical abilities.

They are then cross-referenced with such things as education or home background and writing samples, and that information is then correlated with evidence of brain tissue loss when the nuns die.

Researchers said the nuns, all School Sisters of Notre Dame, made a perfect test group because of their homogenous lifestyle. Sixty of the original group of 678 nuns are still alive. Their ages range between 75 and 106 years old.

Although the University of Kentucky attempted to retain the brain and tissue banks, writings and archive records, UK vice president for research James W. Tracy said the sisters truly control the collection.

"The mother house of their order is in Minnesota and the work was begun there," Tracy said. "They are closer to the collection there."

The University of Minnesota will formally announce its acquisition of the study in early March. Currently, the two universities are jointly sharing credit.

With plenty more questions about Alzheimer's left to be answered, research will continue at both institutions.

Dr. William R. Markesbery, director of both UK's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the Alzheimer Disease Center, said there have been at least two significant discoveries to come from the study.

One involves the advancement of the disease for people who experience a stroke, the other a conclusion that low linguistic ability early in life makes someone more susceptible to Alzheimer's later.

But the center is doing plenty other work in the field not getting as much attention, Markesbery said.

"For 20 years, we've been doing work that has been much more important on the mechanisms of brain degeneration," Markesbery said. "It just hasn't caught the eye of the public."


Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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