Researchers have made significant strides in improving clinical trials in Alzheimer's disease. New diagnostic tools and results from large studies are changing how we conduct trials and the patients being treated in them.
We learned that almost a third of patients in previous trials for Alzheimer's drugs didn't have the beta-amyloid plaques common in the disease, and therefore didn't have Alzheimer's. Now, more trials ensure that patients actually have the plaques that drugs are designed to treat using beta-amyloid PET scans, other neuroimaging techniques, and spinal fluid tests.
Results from many failed and discontinued drug trials suggest that treating patients with beta-amyloid drugs after they are already diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease may not be effective. Thanks to the beta-amyloid PET scan, we know that beta-amyloid plaques begin accumulating in the brain years—and perhaps even decades—before symptoms appear. This is enabling clinical trials of prevention drugs in patients who have plaques but have not developed symptoms or been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Five Alzheimer’s prevention trials, all presented at the recent Clinical Trials in Alzheimer's Disease (CTAD) conference, are now underway.
These prevention trials are critical to testing the "amyloid hypothesis" of Alzheimer's, which posits that the accumulation of beta-amyloid causes Alzheimer's disease. The hypothesis has come into question as many beta-amyloid-targeted drugs have failed in clinical trials. Adherents of the hypothesis say that we must treat people before symptoms of Alzheimer’s emerge, which these trials are doing.
It will be years before the results of these trials are known. But there are many things that you can do right now to reduce your risk for Alzheimer's disease. Visit our First Steps to Protect Your Cognitive Vitality to see where to start.
Nick McKeehan is Assistant Director, Aging and Alzheimer's Prevention at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. He served as Chief Intern at Mid Atlantic Bio Angels (MABA) and was a research technician at Albert Einstein College of Medicine investigating repair capabilities of the brain. He received a bachelor of science degree in biology from Purdue University, where he was awarded a Howard Hughes Scholarship. Mr. McKeehan also writes about the biotechnology industry for 1st Pitch Life Science.
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