Chapman University has earned the largest federal research grant in the university’s history. The National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging awarded a $3.7 million grant to Hillard Kaplan, Ph.D., to pursue his research on Alzheimer’s disease. The five-year grant will support Dr. Kaplan’s work with the Tsimane people in Bolivia, as part of a larger project called The Tsimane Health and Life History Project.

man by a tree

Dr. Hillard Kaplan

The Tsimane tribe in Bolivia are of interest to the scientific community due to their unique status in the world of living a relatively isolated existence, speaking their own language, only reproducing within the tribe, and living an active lifestyle due to the lack of modern conveniences. The Tsimane people have a low-prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and artery disease, yet have high levels of infection and inflammation. Dr. Kaplan’s particular interest is in brain aging, with emphasis on dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“Little is known about the incidence, prevalence, and predictors of Alzheimer’s disease in populations living traditional pre-industrial lifestyles similar to those experienced over human pre-history,” said Dr. Kaplan. “This information is critical to determine whether Alzheimer’s disease is a byproduct of modern environments.”

The hearts and arteries of Tsimane men and women age two to three decades slower than us in the U.S. Because of their high levels of activity and low levels of saturated fat in their diet, they have virtually no plaque in their coronary arteries. Arterial health is one factor affecting the risk of Alzheimer’s and this will be the first study on Alzheimer’s on a population with excellent vascular health.

The study has three aims: 1) to conduct long-term assessment of cognitive impairment and dementia with measurement of physical activity between assessments; 2) to conduct neuroimaging of the brain related to cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias; and 3) to investigate the epidemiology of brain atrophy, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

“The research is time sensitive, as Tsimane are modernizing at an accelerating rate,” says Dr. Kaplan.

“The grant exemplifies the continued growth in science and research at Chapman in exciting new interdisciplinary areas that are supported by funding agencies like the National Institute of Aging (NIA),” said Tom Piechota, Ph.D., vice president of research at Chapman University.

The official name of the grant project is Brain atrophy, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s in a low CVD-risk population. The research will use state-of-the-art bio imaging technology, and a representative sample of 1,310 Tsimane adults aged 40 and higher. The project will leverage 14 years of Tsimane research.

Dr. Kaplan is a member of Chapman University’s Economic Science Institute.

About Chapman University

As an academically distinguished center of learning, Chapman University attracts extraordinary students and faculty from around the globe. Its ten schools and colleges foster a vibrant intellectual community, and provide extensive opportunities for students to learn, grow and discover alongside remarkable faculty. The University is home to some 8,000 students pursuing bachelor, master and doctoral degrees, and is alma mater to more than 40,000 alumni found throughout the United States and the world. Now celebrating its 156th year, Chapman is known for its distinguishing strengths in leadership and civic engagement, in the arts and entertainment disciplines, and in specialized sectors of technology and science. The University is comprised of its main campus in Orange, California, and the Rinker Health Science campus for graduate health science programs in Irvine, California. Visit us at

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