New studies seek to get ahead of Alzheimer’s disease.
The fear of developing Alzheimer’s disease is so great among seniors that in medical literature it has its own acronym: FDAD. “It’s the disease that most concerns older people, even more so than cancer,” says Stephen Salloway, MD, director of the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital.
That’s one reason he’s excited about two new Alzheimer’s prevention trials underway at Brown. “Like with other major diseases in medicine, the goal is to detect and intervene early to try to prevent problems down the road,” Salloway says.
The first, AHEAD, is testing whether a new drug can reduce the amount of a protein called amyloid that builds up in the brain, which is associated with memory loss. The drug breaks up the amyloid plaques and helps remove them. People who enroll in the trial first undergo a positron emission tomography (PET) scan of their brain.
“We now have the capability to safely see amyloid plaques on PET scans,” Salloway, the Martin M. Zucker Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, says. If a person has an elevated or intermediate level of amyloid in the brain, they can enroll in the double-blind trial.
AHEAD enrolls people as young as 55. “We keep pushing the focus earlier and earlier, which is great. We want to catch people at the earliest possible stage of the disease,” Salloway says. The first person to receive an infusion at Butler was a 63-year-old man whose PET scans showed amyloid but has no signs of dementia.
The other trial, US POINTER, tests a lifestyle intervention. It’s based on a Finnish study that showed a Mediterranean-type diet, vigorous exercise, monitoring heart health, and cognitive stimulation have a protective effect on cognitive function.
Participants are randomized into either a self-guided or a structured group during the two-year study. Both receive the same information but participants in the self-guided group will choose how to implement it, while the structured group receives a more hands-on approach.
“Brown is one of only five sites in the US enrolling people in the study, and we’re very pleased to be included,” Salloway says, adding that support from University leadership was instrumental in their selection.
He says Brown is taking a leading role in the era of Alzheimer’s prevention. “It’s based on advances in brain science, some of it happening right here,” Salloway says. “You need the advances in science to make this happen, and we’re applying them to people who may be at risk for Alzheimer’s.”