By Meghan McCarthy
From reducing stigma to disclosing disease biomarkers, Claire Erickson, PhD, MPA, hopes to improve lives by improving the care given to older adults.
Dr. Erickson recently joined the University of Pennsylvania as a postdoctoral researcher. As a member of the Penn Program on Precision Medicine for the Brain (P3MB), she will continue her work on biomarker disclosure for patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
In AD, biomarkers are hallmark molecules such as tau or amyloid that help clinicians with diagnoses. Biomarker disclosure is the process of informing patients about the results of their biomarker testing.
Dr. Erickson began work on biomarker disclosure for cognitively unimpaired participants while pursuing her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a part of the Neuroscience and Public Policy dual degree program, she also focused on the policy implications of her work. While putting together her thesis, Dr. Erickson collaborated with P3MB researcher and expert in biomarker disclosure Emily Largent, JD, PhD, RN, on her thesis.
“I am delighted that Dr. Erickson has joined us at Penn, and am looking forward to working with her on pressing issues at the intersection of Alzheimer’s disease and policy,” said Dr. Largent. “Her recent article on the social and policy implications of preclinical biomarker disclosure highlights her unique scholarly perspective.”
In that article, Dr. Erickson and colleagues identified 10 social, legal, and ethical challenges to expanding biomarker disclosure to clinical or direct-to-consumer settings.
Solutions to these challenges, including public policy changes, are also offered.
“The purpose of biomedical research is to improve lives,” said Dr. Erickson. “One of my main goals for this paper is to begin the discussion on the broader impacts of increasing the number of people who learn their AD biomarker results and how we plan to address these impacts.”
She begins with a discussion on health equity within biomarker disclosure.
“We chose to put health equity and stigma at the beginning of this paper because it lays the framework for the entire health care experience and is a part of every other implication we discuss,” said Dr. Erickson.
For example, biomarker testing may not be affordable or accessible for all patient communities. Dr. Erickson also highlights that AD biomarker research is often not conducted with diverse participant populations.
“Having a representative sample is important,” said Dr. Erickson. “Lifestyles and lifetime exposure varies, and there are elements of being racialized in research because we live in a country where there are systemic inequities built into our society.”
As a solution, she proposes representative sample mandates from research funders.
Beyond treatment and prevention, Dr. Erickson recommends educational resources and policy changes to improve the lives of those living with dementia.
“While a lot of focus has been on the preclinical, or symptom-free, stage of disease, we can’t forget the people living with dementia. There must also be attention paid to developing solutions to the challenges faced by people living with dementia and their loved ones,” said Dr. Erickson.
Examples include private and public funding regulations for long term care insurance. Dr. Erickson also advocates for policies which protect caregivers, such as caregiver tax credits and paid family leave.
Beyond disclosure work, she anticipates that the interdisciplinary collaborations offered at Penn will ground her post-doc experiences at PMC.
“I’m really excited to be working with this group because of how many disciplines are represented. Getting to learn from each team member and their approach to problem solving is a privilege,” said Dr. Erickson.
Dr. Erickson received her master’s in public affairs and PhD in neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Working in the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, she collaborated with Sterling Johnson, PhD, and Lindsay Clark, PhD.