Treating Alzheimer's Before it Starts

As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects one out of every 10 people over age 65. It leads to loss of memory, thinking, and language skills, as well as behavioral changes. The Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), directed by Reisa Sperling, MD, PhD, is a leader in the effort to improve early diagnosis and assess new treatments. Below, see a video of Sperling speaking at a TEDMED conference about the ability to identify individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s as many as 10 to 20 years before they are symptomatic. Then, read on about her team's pioneering new efforts to find a way to treat Alzheimer's before it starts.

Sperling and her team of researchers have performed brain scans to find biomarkers that indicate whether a person is likely to develop Alzheimer’s long before any symptoms appear. Now, in the first clinical trial of its kind, Sperling and her team are studying 1,000 individuals age 70 and over at sites across the country to determine if the drug solanezumab will slow the onset of the disease.

They are looking at people with no symptoms of the disease but who have evidence in their brains of amyloid, the abnormal proteins that are a marker of Alzheimer’s. Solanezumab is designed to clear away amyloid fragments before they clump together to form the amyloid plaques that reduce brain function.

“We hope that starting treatment much earlier in the disease, before symptoms are present, as well as treating for a longer period of time, will slow cognitive decline and ultimately prevent Alzheimer's disease dementia,” says Sperling, the trial’s principal investigator.

In the three-year study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and private sector contributions, half of the participants are receiving solanezumab and half are receiving a placebo, and being measured for cognitive decline over time.

“This large scale study would not be possible without public-private partnerships,” Sperling says, “Alzheimer's disease is a looming public health crisis, and this is a great example of how academia, government and industry can work together towards finding a successful treatment.”