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PACT study passes a milestone in nearing participant goal 

Wall covered in a variety of sticky notes written with participants reason for joining the studyFound within Hicks Hall, colorful squares of yellow, orange, blue and pink have completely hidden the wall behind it. This space, labeled the ‘Wall of Why,’ contains the backstories of around 1,000 participants who chose to work with the University of North Florida’s Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) study. Reasons why each person participated in the study range from curiosity to having a loved one with the disease pass away.   

The PACT study, which began at UNF in 2021, aims to examine whether computerized brain training exercises can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to UNF, the study is also taking place at four other institutions including the University of South Florida, University of Florida, Duke University and Clemson University. The UNF PACT study has recently reported that it surpassed 1,000 participants in its quest to gain 1,300 participants.   

“We’re in the home stretch,” said Maria Vander Meulen, a clinical research coordinator at PACT and a UNF alum. “It’s exciting to see how Jacksonville has come together as a community to support our efforts.”   

Along with the increase in participants, a Phlebotomy lab has been built in Hicks Hall and has already begun collecting blood to contribute to the project and the larger mission of the National Centralized Repository for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias (NCRAD). The blood collected from the baseline blood draw searches for different biomarkers. On their third visit, when participants have follow-up assessments, they can do another blood draw to observe if there are any changes in the biomarkers, helping researchers have a better understanding of what can prevent dementia.   

Led by Dr. Jody Nicholson, a research professor in the Department of Psychology, the PACT study is making a positive impact on the University’s campus and within local communities through groundbreaking research and interdisciplinary collaborations within the College of Arts and Sciences.  

In the spring, two theses written by Vander Meulen and Lizbeth Vera Murillo, a PACT graduate research assistant, used data from a motivational questionnaire administered to PACT participants about why they chose to be a part of the study. Vera Murillo’s thesis was about the motivational differences between participants from different ethnic and racial communities within the study, while Vander Meulen’s was about the motivational differences between male and female participants. The two will combine their topics, adding age as another variable, into a manuscript to publish at the end of this year with UNF alum and fellow PACT graduate research assistant Angel Collie and Dr. Nicholson.  

The overall study will examine differences in motivation to participate in an Alzheimer’s prevention clinical trial among groups typically underrepresented in clinical research. These findings' main purpose will be to improve recruitment and retention efforts for PACT and other clinical studies. 

The PACT study will continue recruiting until April 2024. For more information, visit the PACT study webpage or call 904-620-4263.