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Rooting Out Alzheimer’s

January 2022

Life Sciences

Student researcher working in labPhoto credit: Deseret News

Soon after graduate student Justina Tavana began studying Alzheimer’s disease, she discovered that many Pacific Islanders lack the tools to accurately identify the disease.

“Without the tools to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s, Pacific Islanders cannot receive proper care and treatment,” she says. “If dementia is diagnosed early, it can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.”

Having grown up in Samoa and Hawaii herself, Tavana recruited native, professional translators and began translating diagnostic tools into Polynesian languages. About her team Tavana says, “We’re native scientists working to find ways to treat dementia in our native communities.”

Looking forward, she says, “With the proper tools to accurately assess Samoans and Tongans for dementia symptoms, along with DNA samples from these populations, we will then have the ability to analyze and identify genetic risk factors that specifically influence dementia and Alzheimer’s among these groups.”

Tavana’s work goes beyond helping existing Alzheimer’s sufferers. She hopes that, eventually, she and others can eliminate Alzheimer’s altogether. “We are working very hard to find a cure for this devastating disease,” she says, “and we appreciate all the encouragement and support.”