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Doctoral and medical students at IU School of Medicine and Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine founded IMPACT Indiana, a group centered on health policy and science communication, specifically focusing on Alzheimer’s disease research.

Graduate and medical students form science policy and communication group focused on Alzheimer's disease research

Three people pose for photo at research event

From left to right, Soumilee Chadhuri, Sára Nemes and Valerie Dorsant-Ardon are executive members of IMPACT Indiana.

Soumilee Chaudhuri describes her training at Indiana University School of Medicine as “hardcore biomedical science.” She works with complex data, statistics and brain scans in her study of how vascular risk factors affect racially diverse Alzheimer’s disease patients.

While much of her study dives into the details, Chaudhuri, a PhD candidate in the Medical Neuroscience Graduate Program, doesn’t lose sight of why the research matters.

That’s why she and a group of her peers — doctoral and medical students — at IU School of Medicine and Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine founded a group centered on health policy and science communication, specifically focusing on Alzheimer’s disease research.

The group, called the Initiative for Mobilizing Public health Advocacy, Care, and Translational research for Alzheimer’s disease in Indiana, or IMPACT Indiana, aims to bridge the gap between Alzheimer’s disease scientific research in the lab and engagement with Indiana public officials and community leaders about the implications of their research on public policy.

“I have always wanted to keep in touch with people, tell people what I'm doing as a scientist, and essentially just explain to my grandma what my science means,” Chaudhuri said.

logo of IMPACT IndianaIMPACT Indiana is funded through a Research!America civic engagement microgrant, which the group used to help fund and co-host the Indiana Science Communication Day at the Indiana Statehouse in February. The annual event, organized by the Science Policy Initiative at Notre Dame, allows graduate students from Indiana to engage with state lawmakers about health policy.

The group is also hosting its inaugural IMPACT Indiana Symposium on April 22 in the IU Health Neuroscience Center auditorium. Jared Brosch, MD, associate professor of clinical neurology, will give the keynote speech about clinical updates on lecanemab, a first-of-its-kind Food and Drug Administration-approved Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Laura Aust, advocacy manager for the Greater Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, will speak about how young scientists can engage with the public about their Alzheimer’s disease research.

Chaudhuri, a member of the laboratory of Andrew Saykin, PsyD, director of the Center for Neuroimaging and the , and Kwangsik Nho, PhD, associate professor of radiology and imaging sciences, presented her research at the Indiana Science Communication Day in 2023, and it was through that experience discussing health policy with peers and meeting lawmakers that prompted her to create IMPACT Indiana.

She later connected with trainees at IU School of Medicine and Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine who also were interested in health policy to build a team of learners.

“We work on different pieces of the same puzzle with the overall goal of understanding Alzheimer’s disease,” Chaudhuri said.

This year, the organizers of IMPACT Indiana — Chaudhuri, Sára Nemes and Valerie Dorsant-Ardon — each shared their research at the science communication day and interfaced with fellow students and lawmakers. Nemes is a PhD student in Medical Neuroscience Graduate Program, and Dorsant-Ardon is a PhD student in Medical and Molecular photo of scientists and lawmakers

“We want to be able to tell people about our research,” Chaudhuri said. “A lot of people came out to the science communications day to talk about their research, and they were not just Alzheimer's researchers. There was research about nuclear power. There was research about chemistry. All of us cared, and that's what bonded us together.”

Nemes studies early-onset Alzheimer’s disease research in the laboratory of Liana Apostolova, MD, MS, an Indiana University Distinguished Professor and the Barbara and Peer Baekgaard Professor in Alzheimer's Disease Research. Before she started graduate school, Nemes worked at the Indiana Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and became involved with the center’s Community Advisory Board, which aims to reach underrepresented groups in Indianapolis, specifically the African American community, to educate about dementia care and research.

Now as a graduate student, Nemes is still involved with the board and community initiatives.

“I think it's really important not to lose that perspective and to understand that behind every number, behind every image, behind every single data point, is a real human with a profound story,” Nemes said. “The work and the analysis we're doing is going to tangibly touch people in the future and hopefully improve their lives.”

In addition to communicating their research with lawmakers, patients, caregivers and other members of the community, Chaudhuri and Nemes said IMPACT Indiana hopes to improve equity in research among diverse and underrepresented communities with dementia by starting and continuing conversations about translational research and public policy.

A student presents her researchNemes said the exploitation of Black men in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, from 1932-1972, is a major example why minority communities still don’t feel comfortable participating in research.

“It’s perfectly logical and understandable why people who are most deeply impacted by that insidious history would have that degree of mistrust,” Nemes said. “It’s through their leadership and voices and empowering and engaging with these communities who have been hurt and marginalized that we can rebuild those bridges and create research that is more accessible and equitable and positive as we move forward.”

As IMPACT Indiana continues to grow, Chaudhuri and Nemes said they’re hoping to develop and maintain a solid membership base at IU and other institutions across Indiana, recruiting students and faculty from diverse disciplines, such as geriatric specialists, social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech-language pathologists, and from any career level — high school, undergraduate, graduate, early-career or established faculty.

“As one of my favorite physicians, Jason Karlawish, MD, says in his book, “The Problem with Alzheimer’s” — Alzheimer’s disease is not just a neurodegenerative disease, but a social, cultural, and political problem,” Chaudhuri said. “We need multidisciplinary expertise to solve this.”

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Ben Middelkamp

Ben Middelkamp is a communications manager for the Department of Neurology, Department of Neurological Surgery and Stark Neurosciences Research Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications in December 2019, Ben spent nearly six years as a newspaper reporter in two Indiana cities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Convergent Journalism from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2014. Ben enjoys translating his background in journalism to the communications and marketing needs of the school and its physicians and researchers.