Dr. Lina Zapata Lauded for Research on Dementia in Colombia
On April 15, at the “Shaping the Future” summit organized by the MIT Harvard Club of Colombia, Dr. Lina Zapata won the Beyond Leadership Award for Medical Innovation for her research project aimed at improving dementia diagnosis in Colombia and reducing brain health inequality in the country. The Beyond Leadership Awards aim to recognize those who build the future of Colombia in the fields of sustainability, medical innovation, peace and reconciliation, and diversity and inclusion.
After being awarded, Dr. Zapata said: “Winning the Beyond Leadership Award is a tremendous honor, and it is a testament to the hard work of our team in tackling one of the most pressing healthcare issues facing Colombia today.”
“Education is key in the fight against dementia. It’s not just about improving diagnosis and treatment, but also about raising awareness and reducing stigma. By educating the general public about dementia, we can promote earlier detection, encourage healthy lifestyles, and support those living with the disease and their caregivers. We need to work together to ensure that everyone understands the impact of dementia and the steps we can take to reduce its prevalence and improve the quality of life for those affected,” she continued.
Currently, more than 55 million people worldwide have dementia, over 60% of whom live in low- and middle-income countries. Colombia’s population is rapidly aging, and with it, the prevalence of dementia. Besides the impact on the quality of life of patients and family caregivers, dementia is one of the costliest chronic non-curable diseases, putting an increasing burden on the Colombian health system.
One major problem in Colombia and most Latin American countries is that people with dementia are infrequently diagnosed, and dementia is not well-characterized. Delay in the accurate diagnosis and misdiagnosis of dementia prevents adequate treatment, genetic counseling, and worsens prognosis. This situation is aggravated in Latin America because of limited options for culturally valid cognitive tests and Latinos’ socio-biological and phenotypic diversity, which affect dementia characterization.
To address these issues, Dr. Lina Zapata leads an interdisciplinary research team in Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia, within the Fundacion Valle del Lili Research Center, aiming to test the accuracy of novel and scalable technology-based cognitive assessments to support accurate detection and characterization of dementia in this region of Colombia.
Dr. Zapata’s research team has used digital tools to identify the cognitive, clinical, and genetic profiles of Colombian adults with dementia in Valle del Cauca, within an admixed and diverse population (indigenous, African Colombian and with European ancestries), using risk modeling and pedigree software, and is currently studying their whole genome. This will help make early and accurate diagnosis of dementia, detect new genetic mutations of neurodegenerative diseases in this region, and eventually reduce brain health inequality in Colombia.
Dr. Zapata’s project has been awarded grants and funding from leading international dementia associations such as the Global Brain Health Institute (USA), the Alzheimer’s Association (USA), the Alzheimer Society (UK), and the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium on Dementia (RedLat).
One of the main benefits of this project is the inclusion of an under-studied and under-represented population in international research on dementia, facilitating a better understanding the clinical presentation of dementia in Colombia (which might differ from other countries for cultural and genetic reasons), acquire more knowledge about the population’s genetic vulnerability regarding neurodegenerative disease, but also allow Colombian patients with dementia to participate in international clinical trials for future treatment, and reduce inequality in diagnosis and treatment of dementia.
“Through our research, we aim to provide more accurate and culturally relevant diagnosis and treatment for people living with dementia in Colombia, while also promoting diversity and inclusion in global dementia research,” concluded Zapata.
Photos: MIT Harvard Club of Colombia