BOSTON – Five and a half million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a condition that has no cure right now and very few treatments.
Now, in a first-of-its kind trial, researchers are testing a drug they hope will stop the disease in its tracks before damage begins.
Reisa Sperling, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is one of the country’s top medical minds. For her, Alzheimer’s is very personal.
“So, my grandfather developed symptoms when I was applying to medical school, and it definitely influenced my decision. And then, my dad unfortunately, died almost three years ago now, also of Alzheimer’s disease,” Sperling said.
Sperling is the lead researcher in the A4 trial.
“So, the A4 study aims to use an antibody that helps to clear the amyloid out of the brain, and hopefully will prevent the memory loss altogether one day in Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.
The researchers screened 15,000 people online and brought 4,000 people in for PET scans-looking for a buildup of the amyloid protein in the brain- before people had symptoms. Participants come into the lab every month for an infusion. Half receive the antibody solanezumab, and the other half get a placebo.
Dennis Chan, 67, is a Boston computer scientist with a family history of dementia who is participating in the A4 trial.
“Losing what has been kind of yourself is a pretty scary thing,” Chan said.
Sperling said the last two years have brought disappointing results for clinical trials targeting later stages of Alzheimer’s. Outcomes that have fueled her fire.
“I think the research suggests that we need to go earlier and we need to not give up hope, not back down, but in fact to double down and to work harder on this disease so that it doesn’t defeat us,” Sperling said.
Researchers are now enrolling participants in AHEAD 3-45 trials. They are looking to test antibodies in even younger participants starting at age 50.
Researchers are also hoping to enroll people interested in Alzheimer’s prevention in the APT Web study, which will help screen for future participants. For more information, click here.