U of R Conducts Study to prevent Alzheimer’s, says Minorities’ Participation Key

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By Lisa Dumas

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Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Alzheimer’s Disease, Care, Research and Education (AD-CARE) Program are currently conducting a new study in order to stop Alzheimer’s disease before it starts, officials at the university stated.

The university has been selected to participate in a national clinical trial called, “The Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s study, or “A4 study” for short, which has been designed to test individuals, ages 65 to 85, who may be at risk for the disease, according to officials.

Researchers said they have been recruiting study participants who currently show no signs of memory loss, and hope to provide treatment for the disease in order to prevent Alzheimer’s from actually occurring.

“Basically, when it comes to a disease like Alzheimer’s disease, if you wait to act until the disease has fully expressed itself, it may be too late to do anything about it,” said U of R professor, and principal investigator for the study, Anton Porsteinsson. “You know, it’s like waiting until cancer has fully metastasized, and spread to other parts of the body; or waiting until diabetes has effected your vision. There’s little that you can do at that time. Basically, this is an approach to prevent Alzheimer’s from emerging. So, we look for people that are cognitively normal.”

Porsteinsson said Alzheimer’s occurs due to a protein normally produced in the brain called Amyloid, which can sometimes build up as a plaque in older people, and leave deposits.

He said U of R physicians and researchers will use an imaging test called a PET scan to determine whether a potential participant has evidence of an elevated level of amyloid plaque in the brain.

Those participants will then be given a drug called, solanezumab, which is a medication that is similar to an antibody our bodies already produce.

Porsteinsson said the side effects of the drug will be minimal.

“Side effects are certainly possible,” he stated. “But, overall, the medication is an anti-body similar to what we normally produce when we’re exposed to viruses or bacteria. It’s like, when you get a flu shot; your body produces an anti-body. And, because it’s an exact copy of an antibody, it’s very rare to see an allergic reaction.”

According to Porsteinsson, the study will last for approximately three years, and participants will be required to visit the clinical research site once a month.

He said the university expects to screen at least 200 people for the study, in order to find at least 10 to 20 that will be eligible.

In addition, Porsteinsson said the participation of minorities will be key.

“There is evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s disease is even more common in African Americans and Hispanics,” he stated. “Therefore, simply in terms of the risk, it’s important for us to understand if the treatment that is being developed works as well in minorities as in Caucasians. Or, will it possibly be even better? This study has ambitious goals for the representation of minorities. There’s a challenge that we need to meet. So, it’s not just for this study, but for future studies, in terms of access.”

Porsteinsson said the U of R currently has screened 12 possible participants for the study, but none of the potential applicants have been found to have the deposits.

“If you don’t have it, then your risk is lower,” he stated. “However, if you come in to get screened, the test also does give you that answer.”

Porsteinsson said there are currently approximately 26,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in the Finger Lakes region.

In addition, he said once they find the participants, researchers hope to find out whether the preventative treatment is working through the study.

“There are a number of different things we’re looking for here,” he stated. “We’re trying to understand, ‘How common is this problem?’ We are then trying to understand, ‘How does this condition evolve?’ But, mostly, we want to understand if treatment changes the course of the disease.”

Porsteinsson said anyone interested in participating in the study can learn more by visiting www.a4study.org, or calling (585) 760-6560.

The A4 study has been funded by the National Institute on Aging, Eli Lilly and Co., as well as several philanthropic organizations, he stated.

Additionally, there are currently 30 sites across the country currently participating in the study.