A Shift in Alzheimer's Strategy: Prevention

2 new studies aim to prevent early plaque formation
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 2, 2018 10:15 AM CDT
Researchers Explore New Alzheimer's Tack: Prevention
A doctor goes over a PET brain scan at Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Matt York)

It may be too late to stop Alzheimer's in people who already have some mental decline. But what if a treatment could target the earliest brain changes while memory and thinking skills are still intact, in hope of preventing the disease? Two big studies are going to try, per the AP. Clinics throughout the US and some other countries are signing up participants—the only studies of this type enrolling healthy older people. "The excitement in the Alzheimer's field right now is prevention," says Dr. Eric Reiman of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, which is leading the work. Science so far has failed to find a drug that can alter the progression of Alzheimer's; 146 attempts have failed over the last decade, a recent industry report found. It may be that they were tried too late, like lowering cholesterol after someone has suffered a heart attack, says Reiman.

"What we have been learning, painfully, is that if we really want to come up with therapies that will modify the disease, we need to start very, very, very early," says Dr. Eliezer Masliah of the National Institute on Aging. His agency is funding the studies with the Alzheimer's Association, several foundations, and Novartis and Amgen, makers of two drugs being tested. The goal is to block the earliest steps of plaque formation in people who show no symptoms of dementia but are at higher risk for it because of age and a gene that makes it more likely. To participate, people must first join GeneMatch, a confidential registry of folks interested in volunteering for various Alzheimer's studies. The studies revolve around the APOE4 gene, which doesn't destine someone to develop Alzheimer's but raises that risk.

(Read more Alzheimer's disease stories.)

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