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article imageHealthy seniors join drug study in hope of blocking Alzheimer's

By Karen Graham     Jun 11, 2014 in Health
There are over 35 million people in the world today suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. AD is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for this disease, and it is progressive, eventually leading to death.
A new study started on Monday may prove to be the most thorough and ambitious attempt yet to block Alzheimer's Disease before symptoms appear. The study is focusing on healthy at-risk seniors in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
An experimental drug is being used under controlled conditions to see if it will protect seniors whose brains harbor silent signs showing they may be at risk for developing AD. Scientists plan on scanning the brains of thousands of seniors to find those with a sticky build-up of a protein called beta-amyloid. For many, this will be the first time they may learn they have a potential problem.
PET scans showing the differences between a normal older adult s brain and the brain of an older adu...
PET scans showing the differences between a normal older adult's brain and the brain of an older adult afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.
National Institutes of Health
"We have to get them at the stage when we can save their brains," said Dr. Reisa Sperling of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She is leading the study.
Beta-amyloid is believed to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's Disease. Having a build-up of the sticky substance is not a guarantee of getting the disease, but scientists are questioning if early intervention would make a difference.
The recruitment process started on Monday, and a Rhode Island man was the first of a number of seniors chosen for the study. He was hooked up to an IV infusion at Butler Hospital in Providence.
Peter Bristol, 70, of Wakefield, Rhode Island, thought he may be at risk because his mother died of Alzheimer's Disease. "I felt I needed to be proactive in seeking whatever therapies might be available for myself in the coming years," said Bristol. His PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) showed he had a large enough build-up of the beta-amyloid to qualify for the study.
"Just because I have it doesn't mean I'm going to get Alzheimer's," said Bristol, but he and his wife are "going into the situation with our eyes wide open."
None of the study participants will know until the end of the E4 Study (Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer's) whether they received the monthly infusions of the experimental drug, Eli Lilly & Co.'s solanezumab, or a placebo infusion.
Solanezumab is designed to catch the build-up of amyloids before they get to the point of forming brain plaques, a key sign of Alzheimer's Disease. Earlier tests of the drug on patients with full-blown AD showed it had little effect, but it was noticed the drug did seem to slow the progression of the disease on patients with mild AD. The decision was made to test it on people that hadn't yet shown any sign of the disease, but were at risk based on the PET scans.
Like the silent build-up of cholesterol in the arteries that leads to heart disease, scientists think the slow, silent build-up of amyloid plaque in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient takes almost 10 years to reach the point where symptoms begin to appear. For this reason, scientists believe that intervening before the disease appears may help in slowing or stopping further progression of AD.
"Amyloid we know is a huge risk factor, but someone can have a head full of amyloid and not decline" mentally, Sperling said. "We need to understand more about why some brains are resilient and some are not."
The three year, $140 million study is being funded by the National Institutes of Health, Lilly and others. Participants' memory will be tracked as well as their amyloid levels. The participants, age 65 to 85 will undergo cognitive tests to see if they have normal memories, They will also be screened to see how they handle stress and anxiety because some people will not be able to cope with knowing their PET scan results.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are over five million people in the United States with Alzheimer's Disease. That number is expected to rise as the population ages. Alzheimer's effects one in nine people over the age of 65, and one out of every three people over the age of 85.
More about Alzheimer's disease, drug study, A4 Study, betaamyloid, Experimental drug
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