New Research Detects Alzheimer’s Disease 20 years Before Symptoms Occur

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The National Institutes of Health has embarked on an exciting new clinical trial to test experimental drugs in the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. For the trial, Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network, DIAN, was grant-funded by the National Institute on Aging, and is the largest, most extensive research network in the world to investigate this type of Alzheimer’s, including sites in Britain, Australia and the United States.

The study has already presented remarkable results, indicating that inherited Alzheimer’s disease may be detectable as early as 20 years before memory and cognitive symptoms develop. This evidence has been reported in people who experience an early onset of the more common types of Alzheimer’s and develop a decrease in amyloid levels in their spinal fluid, as well as elevated tau – approximately two decades before the symptoms begin.

Familial Alzheimer’s is only a factor in a small fraction of all Alzheimer’s cases, which affects approximately 5 million people in the US, and is predicted to increase to 10 million by the year 2050. However, this rarity is precisely what makes it such an important and unique focus for this state of the art research.

Heather Snyder, Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association explains, “If you have one of these genetic misspellings, you will develop Alzheimer’s disease approximately 99.9 percent of the time.” Dr. Rachel Schindler, neurologist and well-known expert on Alzheimer’s disease sheds further light on the significance, “It’s a huge opportunity. It’s a window into how early we really can detect the changes related to Alzheimer’s disease. Without that window, you’d have to study hundreds of people over a long period of time because only a few of them would end up developing the disease.”

The findings specifically point to evidence of a “common pathway” linking inherited Alzheimer’s disease to late-onset Alzheimer’s. Dr. Randall Bateman, associate director of the study, explains the significance of the association, “That is the pathway we want to treat. If we can interfere with that, we can hopefully prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

The pioneering trial is assessing the new drugs to evaluate their “safety and efficacy in people who have a history of the genetic mutation that causes familial Alzheimer’s disease” and to investigate how the disease progresses, in hopes that findings will lead to further studies, as well as successful therapies for different types of Alzheimer’s disease.