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YOUR HEALTH: The search for an earlier Alzheimer's diagnosis

The search for an antibody that could strike at the core of the disease

SALT LAKE CITY — In a first-of-its kind trial, researchers are testing a drug they hope will stop Alzheimer's disease in its tracks before damage begins. 

Neurologist Reisa Sperling is one of the country's top medical minds and for her, Alzheimer's is very personal.

"My grandfather developed symptoms when I was applying to medical school, and it definitely influenced my decision."

Dr. Sperling is the lead researcher in the A-4 trial.

"So, the A-4 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."

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.   

"Losing what has been your self is a pretty scary thing," said Dennis Chan, a 67 year old Boston computer scientist with a family history of dementia.

Dr. Sperling says 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 our 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 does not defeat us," she said.

They are looking to test antibodies in even younger participants.

Along with the A4 study, there is also: 

  • the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Trials Unit (DIAN-TU) which is looking to slow down or stop the development of Alzheimer's in individuals who have a set of mutations on genes that cause a rare form of Alzheimer's
  • the Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative is two trials in one. The API studies therapies in people who have a gene mutation that causes Alzheimer's but are without the symptoms. They are also looking into drugs that delay or prevent symptoms in people with genetic mutations as well. 
  • a trial called Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer's Disease that looks at the effects of an immune-based therapy called crenezumab, which delivers antibodies against beta amyloid to reduce negative cognitive effects

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.