A Drug to Prevent Alzheimer’s? A New Clinical Trial

Every 67 seconds someone in the US develops the disease, and an estimated 5.3 million Americans of all age groups currently have Alzheimer’s in 2015, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. More than likely we all know someone with the disease, or a family affected by its devastation.  These and other startling facts about Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Association are an eye opener when considering the seriousness of how this disease will continue to impact us all:

  • Of the 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, an estimated 96% are age 65 and older, with the remaining 4% under age 65 (younger-onset Alzheimer’s).
  • Almost 2/3 of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Older African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than older whites to have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
  • Deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease increased 71% between 2010-13, while those caused by heart disease, the #1 cause of death, decreased 14%.
  • As of 2015, Alzheimer’s is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in the US that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed (AA, 2015).

In the US, the number of people 65+ with Alzheimer’s is estimated to reach 7.1 million by 2025 — a 40% increase from 2015.  By 2050, the number of people 65+ with Alzheimer’s may nearly triple, to a projected 13.8 million, without the development of breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.

But to understand the full impact of Alzheimer’s the impact on families and caregivers that care for these patients must be considered.  Cargiving takes place often over many years,  averaging about 8 (AA, 2015).  The Alzheimer’s Association has estimated that in 2014 alone, caregiver’s of Alzheimer’s patients provided 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care.  And this care takes a toll, with 60% of caregivers rating their emotional stress as high or very high, and 40% suffering from depression.  Due to this, Alzheimer’s caregivers had $9.7 billion in additional health care costs in 2014 (AA, 2015).

Fortunately, ongoing study and research points to some positive news on the horizon. The Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Hospital is part of a landmark clinical trial investigating a new treatment for Alzheimer’s. The trial plans to remove a key protein from the brain to prevent memory loss a decade before symptoms in healthy older adults begin to show (ScienceDaily, 2015).

The study, called the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s study, or A4, is for patients ages 65 to 85 who are considered at risk for Alzheimer’s disease related memory loss and dementia, but who have not yet shown signs of the disease.  In the trial, researchers use an investigational treatment to reduce the impact of the protein beta amyloid, which researchers and clinicians have discovered form plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients 10-20 years before the first symptoms of the disease appear.  The theory scientists have proposed is the accumulation of these proteins may contribute to the eventual development of Alzheimer’s-related memory loss, by inducing excess production of an abnormal form of the ibrain protein, tau (ScienceDaily, 2015).

The A4 study, led by Dr. Joseph Masdeu, and his team at the Nantz National Alzheimer Center, involves an investigational drug that targets excess amyloid in the brain. The goal of this study is to learn whether this drug will delay the symptoms of cognitive decline and memory loss in patients prior to diagnosis by slowing the brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s.

Approximately 1,000 adults will participate in the study at more than 60 sites across the US. Study researchers have said they hope to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s for patients until a prevention or cure is found.