Dr. Berger Receives Prestigious K76 Award

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Duke Anesthesiology’s Miles Berger, MD, PhD, and his team of investigators a Paul B. Beeson Emerging Leaders Career Development Award in Aging (K76); a five-year, $1,195,505 grant for their project, titled “Neuro-inflammation in Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction: CSF and fMRI Studies.”

According to the project description, each year, more than 16 million older Americans undergo anesthesia and surgery, and up to 40 percent of these patients develop postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), a syndrome of postoperative thinking and memory deficits. Although distinct from delirium, POCD (like delirium) is associated with decreased quality of life, long term cognitive decline, early retirement, increased mortality, and a possible increased risk for developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Strategies are needed to prevent POCD, but first, we need to understand what causes it. A dominant theory holds that brain inflammation causes POCD, but little work has directly tested this theory in humans. Dr. Berger and his team’s preliminary data strongly suggests that there is significant postoperative neuro-inflammation in older adults who develop POCD.

In this K76 award, the team of investigators will prospectively obtain pre and postoperative cognitive testing, fMRI imaging and CSF samples in 200 surgical patients over the age of 65. This will allow them to evaluate the role of specific neuro-inflammatory processes in POCD, its underlying brain connectivity changes, and postoperative changes in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Alzheimer’s disease (AD) biomarkers, such as the microtubule-associated protein tau. This project will advance understanding of neuro-inflammatory processes in POCD and clarify the potential link(s) between these processes and postoperative changes in AD pathology, in line with the National Institute of Aging’s mission to understand aging and fight cognitive decline due to AD.

The K76 is a mentored career development award; Dr. Berger’s mentoring team includes Drs. Joseph Mathew (chairman of Duke Anesthesiology) and Harvey Cohen (director of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development ), as well as Drs. Roberto Cabeza (from the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience), Kent Weinhold (vice chair for research of Duke Surgery), and Heather Whitson (deputy director of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development). Co-investigators and collaborators include Drs. Niccolò Terrando (Duke Anesthesiology), Jeffrey Browndyke (Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences) and David Murdoch (Duke Medicine).

During this K76 grant period, Dr. Berger, an assistant professor of anesthesiology, will also complete an individually-tailored MS degree in translational research that will include training in immunology methods, fMRI imaging, cognitive neuroscience, geroscience, and physician leadership. This career development plan will provide him with transdisciplinary skills to pursue his longer term goal of improving postoperative cognitive function for the more than 16 million older Americans who have anesthesia and surgery each year.