A Keck Medicine of USC neuroradiologist has been awarded four grants that will pave the way for new research into the underlying causes of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Kevin S. King, MD, assistant professor of clinical radiology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, will receive $300,000 in grant funding to further his research for two years. His work is expected to begin this summer and will focus on cerebrovascular reactivity as an early predictor of brain hypoperfusion, microvascular injury and cognitive decline.

King will be looking at causes of Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive disease while examining potential therapeutic options that could prevent reduced cognitive function associated with aging.

“We could potentially be answering some interesting and important questions,” said King, who was recently recruited from the University of Texas, Southwestern, where he worked with the Dallas Heart Study. Although it is now widely accepted that vascular risk factors damage the brain and increase risk for dementia, little is known about how this occurs.

The grant funding will allow King to directly assess the relationships between the health and functions of blood vessels in the brain and cognitive decline.

To test his theory that decreased blood flow to the brain is the cause of cognitive decline, King will use noninvasive advanced imaging such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to assess the health of blood vessels in the brain.

King will use those findings to help develop preventative measures for cognitive decline.

King hopes to identify the very earliest indicators to potential cognitive disorders, prior to onset of diminished blood flow to the brain or cognitive decline.

His research focuses on the causes of dementia that are related to blood pressure. He will conduct stress tests that increase flow in brain blood vessels. Early stages of disease may decrease the capacity of these blood vessels to increase flow. The brain uses a large amount of energy, and maintaining this ability to increase flow to meet metabolic demand may be critical to maintaining cognitive function.

King will collaborate with other researchers at USC’s Health Sciences and University Park campuses, and the study will be performed in conjunction with the Vascular Cohort Study of the USC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. King will work with patients in the Los Angeles area and the Huntington Research Institute. The project will include about 180 men and women older than age 70.

King’s grants are the Baxter Foundation Grant, the USC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Pilot grant, the Zumberge Grant and the Radiological Society of North America Research Scholar Grant, which is considered among the most prestigious research awards in the radiology community.

— Douglas Morino