Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation leading new Alzheimer’s study

Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation leading new Alzheimer’s study

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is looking into brain health for seniors in the community.

WPHW and WSU’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), have been awarded a four-year, $4.49 million grant from the National Institute on Aging. The newly established Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation is leading the study. The research, which will be based out of Bangor, will start this summer and take place over the next four years.

This study aims to estimate the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias and mild cognitive impairment among Wabanaki tribal citizens aged 55 and older, as well as to determine current and future economic costs associated with these conditions.

Lisa Sockabasin, RN, MS and Co-CEO of WPHW and Dr. Patrik Johansson, MD, MPH and Associate Professor at WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, who is also director of Northwest Health Education Research Outcomes Network (NW HERON), are co-leading these efforts.

“Through building a greater capacity for research, we will be able to deepen our learning about our Tribes’ unique health needs. We are one of two organizations in the northeast to be awarded this opportunity to expand this meaningful work.” Sockabasin said. “We are grateful to have the opportunity to keep our knowledge within our own communities as these efforts are being led by Tribal elders and Native researchers.”

Sockabasin is a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk with extensive experience and expertise in tribal, state, and federal governments, non-profits, and philanthropic organizations. She collaborates with a variety of partners, including tribal leadership, to address systemic inequities experienced by Wabanaki communities in Maine. Through her work, she develops and implements culturally based programs that respond to the needs of the tribal communities.

Dr. Johansson has worked for over 20 years with the Wabanaki Nations made up of the Mi’kmaq Nation; the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians; the Penobscot Nation; and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which comprises the Indian Township and Pleasant Point communities. Johansson has also worked with a variety of Tribes across the nation.

“We are grateful for the strong leadership and vision of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness in establishing the Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation.” Johansson said. “Through our partnership we will learn about memory function of Wabanaki elders and create education programming for future generations of public health professionals and researchers who are Wabanaki Tribal citizens.”

The grant will also fund two capacity-building projects for WPHW led by Dr. Rebecca Petrie, Co-CEO of WPHW. The first project will build research capacity among WPHW staff and Wabanaki undergraduate students through a year-long tailored public health research methods course and student internships. The second will exercise tribal sovereignty through the creation of a Tribal Research Review Board (TRRB) to regulate scientific endeavors and build research capacity.

Petrie said, “We are delighted to be able to build this research capacity, not only for our organization, but also for the tribal communities and people we serve. Indigenous researchers will lead our efforts to build this capacity directly through this opportunity to tell the stories of success.”

Rebecca Petrie, PhD, MPH, has experience working in tribal health, health equity, public health nutrition, program evaluation, and systems development. In her capacity as the Co-CEO of WPHW, she oversees the operational, financial, data, and research efforts for the organization. She is an Epidemiologist and has 20 years’ experience working with public health data systems.


WPHW is one of 29 organizations to receive a Native American Research Center for Health (NARCH) grant through the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The NIA is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Learn more about the Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation here.