A University of Wisconsin professor has received a research grant to study preventative measures for individuals at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo, UW assistant professor of medicine, received the 2014 New Investigator Research Grant to Promote Diversity from the Alzheimer’s Association.

UW has an expansive and elite range of resources for Alzheimer’s research, Kari Paterson, South Central Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association executive director, said. These resources range from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and the UW Biotechnology Center, she said.

Paterson said the research conducted by Okonkwo focuses on preventative measures for higher-risk individuals rather than studying patients already suffering from the illness.

“The association was looking for studies to fill a gap. His study is unique in that it will change innovation, understanding and prevention,” Paterson said.

Okonkwo will examine whether aerobic exercise can help prevent the risk of dementia in adults who are hereditarily susceptible to the disease, Paterson said. His study focuses simply on protecting the brain, she said.

Okonkwo said this study will serve as a preliminary study, which will be followed by a longer and larger one that will examine the effects of aerobic exercise on the risk of becoming cognitively impaired.

“The goal is to begin with this pilot study that focuses on the effects of aerobic exercise on the brain and cognition,” Okonkwo said. “Depending on the preliminary results, we may apply for funding for a more in-depth study.”

The study will examine a group of adults who have a parent or parents who suffer from Alzheimer’s, Okonkwo said. The group will be randomized to two types of exercise that differ in level of intensity, he said.

Okonkwo said both groups will work out three days a week for 50 minutes each session. Using a series of sensitive brain imaging methods and cognitive assessments, he said his research team will observe and record any changes that occur.

According to recent figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans, including an estimated 110,000 Wisconsin residents, are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and it kills more Americans before diabetes, breast cancer and prostate cancer according to the figure, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is part of 30 federally funded centers that work together to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, Carol Hutchinson, outreach specialist for the Wisconsin ADRC, said.

“The UW campus is unique in the fact that the ADRC located on the UW campus is the only location in the state of Wisconsin,” Hutchinson said.