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Clinical Trials for Conditions Ranging From Alzheimer's to COVID Are Available Now

12 of the most promising studies now recruiting older Americans as participants

Clinical trials are open for conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer's and COVID-19 and are seeking older participants.
A researcher working on samples in a laboratory in Lille, France.
Sylvain Lefevre / Getty Images

If you're dealing with a chronic illness, joining a clinical trial is a way not only to help others by moving science forward but also, possibly, to receive cutting-edge treatment at the hands of a top medical team.

Older adults are often underrepresented in clinical trials, though participation is increasing. In 2019, 36 percent of subjects in clinical trials leading to approval of 48 new drugs were people 65 and older, up from 15 percent in 2018.

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To join a trial, including those listed below, search for them on ClinicalTrials.gov, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) database. (Fill in your health condition or plug in the exact key codes in parentheses below to speed your search to one of these specific trials.) Here's a sampling of new trials with the potential to dramatically change the treatment of disease.

Cognitive impairment/Alzheimer's disease

The NIH supports more than 200 active clinical trials on Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, says Laurie Ryan, chief of the clinical interventions and diagnostics branch in the National Institute on Aging's division of neuroscience. These studies — both currently recruiting — are late-stage trials on repurposing drugs used for other medical conditions.

An epilepsy drug for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) A formulation of levetiracetam, a commonly prescribed epilepsy drug, is being tested in a phase 3 global clinical trial to assess if it will reduce overactivity in the hippocampus and improve memory. Participants will receive either the drug or a placebo once daily for 78 weeks and be tested for improvements in memory. (NCT03486938)

Nicotine patch for memory improvement Nicotine has been shown to stimulate systems in the brain to help improve memory and attention. This study hopes to determine whether wearing a nicotine patch can improve memory and functioning in people with MCI. Researchers are recruiting 300 healthy individuals who show symptoms of mild memory loss. Participants will wear either a daily transdermal nicotine patch or a placebo patch for two years. (NCT02720445)

COVID-19

The COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN), representing more than 100 clinical trial sites in the United States, has established a website (coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org) that includes a screening registry for volunteers. “We still need thousands more people,” says Jim Kublin, M.D., executive director of the CoVPN operations program, based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. For more information, call 866-288-1919.

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A vaccine to prevent or lessen the severity of COVID-19 The Ensemble Study will enroll up to 60,000 participants. The vaccine does not contain the actual virus. (NCT04505722)

A vaccine based on a weakened version of the common cold virus It presents part of a COVID-19 spike protein to trigger the body's immune response. (NCT04516746)

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Comparing age groups This trial will evaluate the effectiveness of investigational vaccines among those ages 65 to 85, compared with those ages 18 to 55. (NCT04368728)

Osteoarthritis

Numerous clinical trials are studying stem-cell injection to reduce osteoarthritis (OA) pain and restore degenerated cartilage.

Stem cells for knee pain The phase 3 MILES study is the first clinical trial for knee OA to compare the effectiveness of three types of stem-cell treatments against the standard corticosteroid injection. Patients ages 40 to 70, with moderate to severe knee OA, are being recruited in five states. Participants will receive either an injection of one of the stem-cell types or a corticosteroid and be evaluated for a year. (NCT03818737)

Numbing inflamed hip nerves Water-cooled radio-frequency ablation is a treatment that disables pain nerves. Researchers are recruiting subjects to receive either the experimental treatment or steroid injections and will evaluate them to assess hip-pain relief and walking mobility. (NCT04329884)

Cancer

There are thousands of cancer clinical trials recruiting participants in the United States. Many phase 3 clinical trials could have treatment-changing impact.

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Radiation to target prostate tumors Patients with localized prostate cancer are being recruited for a study using proton-beam therapy. PBT targets tumors with precision accuracy to minimize damage to healthy tissue and to reduce the risk of urinary and erectile problems. “This trial has the potential to be practice-changing,” says principal investigator Jason A. Efstathiou, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital. (NCT01617161)

A therapy to prevent lymphedema Lymphedema, a buildup of lymph fluid that can cause lifelong pain, occurs in about 20 percent of breast cancer patients who have lymph nodes removed or as a result of radiation. Researchers believe immediate lymphatic reconstruction may be the best way to prevent it and are recruiting breast cancer patients up to age 75, half of whom will undergo the reconstruction surgery. “If we find [this] decreases the risk of developing lymphedema, immediate lymphatic reconstruction may become a standard of care,” says lead researcher Michelle Coriddi, M.D., of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (NCT04241341)

COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the third-leading cause of death by disease in the U.S. Ruth Tal-Singer, president and chief scientific officer of the COPD Foundation, suggests this trial:

Approved drugs to reduce flare-ups This 3,200-participant phase 3 clinical trial will evaluate which of two Food and Drug Administration–approved drugs — the antibiotic azithromycin or roflumilast, an anti-inflammatory — works best to reduce severe COPD episodes. The study is recruiting current or former smokers 40 and older who have been hospitalized for COPD in the past 12 months. (NCT04069312)

Heart disease

Apple Watch trial to stop stroke This 150,000-person study for Medicare recipients age 65-plus will investigate whether a heart health app and the Apple Watch's electrocardiogram and irregular-heart-rhythm notification sensors can lead to earlier detection of atrial fibrillation (A-fib) and reduce the likelihood of stroke. (NCT04276441)

Diabetes drug to prevent heart attacks A drug used by people with type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar is being investigated to determine if it can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke in overweight or obese individuals with heart disease. Participants will randomly receive an injectable pen containing either the drug semaglutide or a placebo to inject into a skinfold on a weekly basis for up to five years. (NCT03574597)

What to Think About Before You Sign Up

There's a lot to consider when weighing whether to participate in a clinical trial. You'll likely wade through tons of material, so it's best to review it with both your doctor and an attorney.

  • What do the phases mean? Phase 1 trials, which test to determine if a treatment is safe for use in humans, have the greatest potential risk. Phase 2 studies examine treatments that are safe but aren't yet proved effective. Phase 3 trials build upon promising phase 2 trial findings.

  • What will it cost me? Usually there are no costs other than expenses like travel and meals.

  • Is it risky? Yes, there are risks. You may not know if you are getting the experimental treatment or a placebo, and your condition may get worse with either. In some cases, participants in trials of experimental therapies have been seriously injured or even died.

  • Do I sign away my rights? No. Informed-consent forms are not allowed to include language that absolves the research institution of caring for injured participants. In 2000 the government established an office to enforce informed-consent rules and institutional safety review boards to guard participants’ welfare.

—Jeff Csatari

Cynthia E. Keen is a New York–based medical writer specializing in health care technology.

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