Mayo study seeks to pretreat Alzheimer's in effort to prevent brain damage

July 16, 2013 by Stacey Burling

The day is coming when doctors will be able to diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease before people have symptoms, and Ronald Petersen is among the doctors laying the groundwork for that future.

Petersen is director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, which is using detailed tests to monitor in from Olmsted County, Minn., as they age.

He discussed the early results of the study recently at a talk sponsored by several programs at the University of Pennsylvania, including the Penn Memory Center.

Among some puzzling findings, the Mayo doctors have learned that a fair number of patients look cognitively impaired one year and fine the next. They're still at higher risk for dementia than people who have never shown mild cognitive impairment, a stage that often precedes Alzheimer's.

More surprising, a high percentage of people with mild cognitive impairment had evidence of structural degeneration in their brains but not of abnormal deposits of amyloid, a hallmark found in Alzheimer's disease.

This is important, Petersen said, because drug firms are trying to develop drugs that target amyloid. So far, they haven't proven effective. It's important, he said, that such drugs be tested in the right people.

The Mayo study, which includes 4,000 people, began in 2004 with participants above age 70 who did not have dementia. In 2011, the minimum enrollment age was dropped to 50.

Scientists believe that the "preclinical" phase of Alzheimer's - the period when errant proteins are accumulating and the brain is changing but there are no symptoms - may last 15 years. The goal is to diagnose and treat people before their brains are irreparably damaged.

Doctors can't do that yet, but researchers are studying how and tests of spinal fluid correlate with changes in thinking and memory.

An earlier study of the Mayo group found that about 16 percent of those ages 70 to 89 had .

Petersen said that about half of patients without physical evidence of disease tested normal a year later while 8 percent progressed to dementia. Seventeen percent of patients who had signs of amyloid deposition and structural changes progressed to a dementia diagnosis in a year while only 5 percent returned to normal. Meanwhile, the patients who had apparent neurodegeneration progressed at the highest rate - 22 percent - and also returned to normal at the highest rate - 36 percent. "There's a lot of bounce here," Petersen said.

Petersen foresees a time when a diagnosis will be more complicated than it is now. It will include information on which proteins have gone awry, genetics, and other medical problems. All of that will allow for more targeted treatments and it may mean that people who are now said to have Alzheimer's disease will get a different diagnosis.

Meanwhile Mayo doesn't tell study participants what all of its tests are finding, although it will share tests with their if patients want it. "It's research information," he said. "We don't know what it means."

Explore further: No link between anesthesia, dementia in elderly

Related Stories

No link between anesthesia, dementia in elderly

May 1, 2013
Elderly patients who receive anesthesia are no more likely to develop long-term dementia or Alzheimer's disease than other seniors, according to new Mayo Clinic research. The study analyzed thousands of patients using the ...

Cardiac disease linked to higher risk of mental impairment

January 28, 2013
Cardiac disease is associated with increased risk of mild cognitive impairment such as problems with language, thinking and judgment—particularly among women with heart disease, a Mayo Clinic study shows. Known as nonamnestic ...

Scientists spot early signs of Alzheimer's disease

July 9, 2013
Early signs of Alzheimer's disease can be detected years before diagnosis, according to researchers at Birmingham City University.

Gene is marker only for mild cognitive impairment

February 12, 2013
Defying the widely held belief that a specific gene is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, two Cornell developmental psychologists and their colleagues report that people with that gene are more likely to develop ...

Pre-Alzheimer's: Metabolic disorder found in cognitively normal patients

June 11, 2013
Alzheimer's disease has been linked in many studies to amyloid plaque buildup in the brain, but new research is finding a common thread between amyloid burden and lower energy levels, or metabolism, of neurons in certain ...

Recommended for you

PET scans for Alzheimer's could bring benefit to more patients

October 19, 2017
An imaging tool honed to spot rogue proteins in the brain could benefit some patients with suspected Alzheimer's, according to a new study.

One step closer toward a treatment for Alzheimer's disease?

October 18, 2017
Scientists at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), in collaboration with colleagues at the University California, San Diego (UCSD), have characterized a new class of drugs as potential therapeutics for Alzheimer's disease ...

New mechanism detected in Alzheimer's disease

October 13, 2017
McGill University researchers have discovered a cellular mechanism that may contribute to the breakdown of communication between neurons in Alzheimer's disease.

Neuroscientists identify genetic changes in microglia in a mouse model of neurodegeneration and Alzheimer's disease

October 13, 2017
Microglia, immune cells that act as the central nervous system's damage sensors, have recently been implicated in Alzheimer's disease.

Green tea extract delivers molecular punch to disrupt formation of neurotoxic species

October 11, 2017
Green tea is widely considered to be beneficial for the brain. The antioxidant and detoxifying properties of green tea extracts help fight catastrophic diseases such as Alzheimer's. However, scientists have never fully understood ...

Menopause triggers metabolic changes in brain that may promote Alzheimer's

October 10, 2017
Menopause causes metabolic changes in the brain that may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, a team from Weill Cornell Medicine and the University of Arizona Health Sciences has shown in new research.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.