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Original Investigation
April 2014

The Growth and Impact of Alzheimer Disease Centers as Measured by Social Network Analysis

Author Affiliations
  • 1Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 2Department of Biology, University of Missouri–St Louis
  • 3Department of Pharmacology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 4Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 5Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Institute on Aging, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia
JAMA Neurol. 2014;71(4):412-420. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.6225

Importance  Alzheimer disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disorder with no effective therapies. In 1984, the National Institute on Aging created the first 5 AD centers (ADCs) in an effort to coordinate research efforts into the pathology and treatment of the disease. Since that time, the ADC program has expanded to include 27 centers in major medical schools throughout the United States. A major aim of ADCs is to develop shared resources, such as tissue samples and patient populations, and thereby promote large-scale, high-impact studies that go beyond the capabilities of any single investigator or institution working in isolation.

Objective  To quantitatively evaluate the performance of the ADC program over the past 25 years.

Design and Setting  We systematically harvested every article published by ADC investigators and used social network analysis to analyze copublication networks.

Results  A total of 12170 ADC papers were published from 1985 through 2012. The frequency of collaborations has increased greatly from the time that the ADCs were started until the present, even after the expansion of ADCs and the recruitment of new investigators plateaued. Moreover, the collaborations established within the context of the ADC program are increasingly interinstitutional, consistent with the overall goal of the program to catalyze multicenter research teams. Most important, we determined that collaborative multi-ADC research articles are consistently of higher impact than AD articles as a whole.

Conclusions and Relevance  The ADC program has successfully fostered high-impact, multiuniversity collaborations; we suggest that its structural and administrative features could be replicated in other fields of patient-oriented research.