Boston medical researchers are hoping to get ahead of Alzheimer’s by testing a possible treatment in patients who don’t have symptoms but may be at risk for the progressive disease.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital is part of the global AHEAD Study, an Alzheimer’s clinical trial that is looking at whether an investigational treatment can slow or stop the earliest brain changes in people with a higher risk of developing the disease later in life.
The scientists, who are seeking participants for the four-year clinical trial, are testing lecanemab — the recently FDA-approved Biogen drug for patients exhibiting Alzheimer’s symptoms — in patients as young as 55 years old who are at risk of developing symptoms as they get older.
“Our goal is to see if we can change the trajectory of cognitive decline using a medication early in the disease process,” Seth Gale, lead researcher at the Brigham, told the Herald this week.
“My hope is we find a treatment, coupled with lifestyle, that prevents the onset of Alzheimer’s disease for people who might have a higher risk,” added Gale, a neurologist who’s co-director of the Brain Health Program in the Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder affecting more than 6.5 million Americans that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out simple tasks.
While the specific causes of Alzheimer’s are not fully known, it is characterized by changes in the brain — including amyloid beta plaques and neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles — that result in loss of neurons and their connections. These changes affect a person’s ability to remember and think.
In the AHEAD study, the researchers are testing the effect of lecanemab in healthy people who have amyloid in their brain, known as preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
The study requires a number of medical procedures, including: MRI scans; memory and thinking tests; IV infusions of the investigational treatment (or placebo) that aims to help remove amyloid plaques from the brain; and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans to look for the amyloid plaques and tau tangles associated with Alzheimer’s.
“The ability to identify people at risk for developing cognitive decline due to AD based on amyloid PET provides the opportunity to test whether early intervention can delay cognitive decline,” said Reisa Sperling, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, and co-principal investigator of the AHEAD Study.
The total worldwide enrollment goal for the study is 1,400 people, and the researchers hope to complete enrollment by the end of the year. The Brigham site has nine participants as of now, and the site has “capacity to have much more than that,” Gale said.
Those in the Boston-area who are interested in participating in the study at the Brigham should visit studymemory.org. People can also call the study team at 857-307-0345.
People interested in the AHEAD study and enrollment sites across the U.S. and Canada should visit www.aheadstudy.org.
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