Catching Alzheimer's early

By: Maureen McFadden Email
By: Maureen McFadden Email

It robs you of your memories, families of their finances, and it could be in your genes.

In today's medical moment, we look at how researchers are racing to stop Alzheimer’s.

Of the ten deadliest diseases in the world, it's the only one that cannot be prevented, slowed or cured.

Right now, five million people are living with Alzheimer's and that number is expected to triple by 2050.

The Alzheimer's Association recently awarded its largest research grant ever to the Dian trial – it's a study they hope could change the future of the 15 million people destined to die from Alzheimer's.

The work Robert Balfour, a Dina trial participant, is doing could change his life and the lives of millions.

"I've never had this procedure done, but I feel confident,” he said.

Balfour, 23, is one of 260 international participants in the Dian or ‘Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network’ trial.

"We're very interested in helping to find a possible cure,” Balfour said.

This genetic form of the disease struck his grandmother, uncle and father and he could be next. When Alzheimer's is caused by rare mutations--- half the family will get it before they're 60, some will see signs as early as 30 years old.

"I think the biggest surprise is how similar dominantly inherited Alzheimer's disease is to regular later onset Alzheimer's disease,” said Dr. Randall J. Bateman, a Charles F. and Joanne Knight distinguished professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine.

Dr. Bateman believes the best way to find a treatment for everyone is to study people who have the gene that causes early onset. He says studying their brain changes before memory loss occurs and may unlock answers to how the disease develops in all sufferers.

"We think that by treating Alzheimer's at an early stage will give us an opportunity to even prevent a person from having cognitive decline,” Dr. Bateman said.

By early next year, researchers will start testing three new drugs that could slow or stop the disease.

"Frankly, in 10 years I really hope to have therapies for Alzheimer's disease,” he added.

Hope that may be too late for Balfour's father, but could one day change this young man's future.

"In the midst of a difficult situation one has to look at the good that comes out of it,” he said.

To be eligible for the international trial you have to be at risk of having the mutation - meaning you're the child or descendant of someone who had the disease.

Less than one percent of all Alzheimer's cases are a result of a known genetic mutation.

Experts are still enrolling for the trial.

RESEARCH SUMMARY

The Alzheimer's Association awarded its largest-ever research grant - nearly $4.2 million over four years - to the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network-Therapeutic Trials Unit (DIAN-TTU), based at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

DIAN is an international network of 11 leading research centers established in 2008 by funding from the National Institute on Aging to investigate Alzheimer's disease caused by rare, dominantly inherited genetic mutations. Children of individuals who carry one of these genetic mutations have a 50-50 chance of inheriting the gene mutation, and those who do are destined to develop the disease. Mutation carriers have a young-onset version of Alzheimer's disease; symptoms typically begin in their 30s, 40s or 50s.

DIAN now has the largest and most extensive worldwide research network investigating dominantly inherited Alzheimer's disease, and includes facilities in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.
At the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2011, the DIAN team reported that, in this population, measurable brain chemistry changes appear as much as 20 years before the first detectable memory and thinking impairments. (Source: alz.org)

WHY IS THE DIAN STUDY AND ITS VOLUNTEERS IMPORTANT? Dominantly inherited Alzheimer's disease-identifiable through genetic testing-develops in a pattern resembling the far more familiar late-onset form. By observing the complex interrelated biological changes that occur in gene carriers well before symptoms appear, scientists will obtain invaluable insight into how and why the disease develops, and can compare and extrapolate their findings to the much more common late-onset disease (often called "sporadic" Alzheimer's disease because it often develops without a clear family history of the disorder).

The study requires a large number of qualified study participants, both gene carriers and non-carriers, so that comprehensive research studies can be conducted and data accurately compared with the far more common late onset Alzheimer's disease.

WHAT IS THE STUDY'S GOAL? Research suggests that certain brain changes occur years before actual Alzheimer's symptoms are detected. One goal of DIAN is to study these possible changes in people who carry an Alzheimer's disease mutation. Other family members without a mutation will serve as a comparison group.

People in families in which a mutation has been identified will be tracked in order to detect physical or mental changes that might distinguish people who inherited the mutation from those who did not. Participants will have the procedures at the time of enrollment into DIAN and thereafter every one to three years, depending on the participant's age and the age at which his or her family member began to show signs of Alzheimer's disease. More information can be obtained by contacting one of the DIAN performance sites. (SOURCE: dian-info.org)

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

The DIAN Expanded Registry: DIANXR.org
Phone: Reach us toll free by calling: 1-800-747-2979


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