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 very earliest brain changes while memory and thinking skills are still intact, in hope of preventing the disease? Two big studies are going all out to try.
Clinics throughout the United States 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,” said Eric Reiman, M.D., executive director 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, the most common form of dementia; 146 attempts have failed over the past decade, a recent industry report found.
It may be that the drugs were tried too late, Reiman said.
“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,” said Eliezer Masliah, M.D., neuroscience chief at the National Institute on Aging.
His agency is funding the prevention studies with the Alzheimer’s Association, several foundations, and Novartis and Amgen, makers of two experimental drugs being tested.
The goal is to try to block the earliest steps of plaque formation in the brains of healthy people who show no symptoms of dementia but are at higher risk because of age and genetics.
To participate, people must first join GeneMatch, a confidential registry of those ages 55 to 75 who are interested in volunteering for various Alzheimer’s studies and have not been diagnosed with any mental decline.