Can Alzheimer's be stopped years before it starts?

September 15, 2017 by Erica Rheinschild, University of Southern California
Researchers are attempting to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease using medication that prevents the buildup of amyloid plaques. Credit: iStock

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC are tackling the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States—Alzheimer's disease—with a new study that intervenes decades before the disease develops.

The school is joining approximately 90 institutions in North America, Europe and Australia in the Generation Study, which is testing a and oral medication to prevent or delay Alzheimer's in older adults at increased risk for developing the disease. More than 70 USC researchers across a range of disciplines are dedicated to the prevention, treatment and potential cure of Alzheimer's.

By focusing on prevention, the study is taking a different approach to halting a disease that affects 47 million people worldwide.

"One of the challenges in developing new medications for Alzheimer's is that researchers tend to test medications on people with more advanced Alzheimer's, and the medications are simply not proving to be effective," Lon Schneider, the study's lead investigator. "By intervening 10 to 12 years before Alzheimer's manifests, we may be able to stop it before it begins or delay the symptoms."

Adults 60 to 75 years of age with normal cognition who are interested in participating must undergo genetic testing for the apolipoprotein e4 (APOE4) gene, which is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's.

About half of people with Alzheimer's disease carry the APOE4 gene, which can be inherited from either parent, said Schneider, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences and professor of neurology. About 25 percent of the population carries one copy of the APOE4 gene, and about 2 to 3 percent of the population carries two copies, having received one from each parent. To qualify for the study, participants must have two copies of the gene.

Delay the disease

Qualifying participants may randomly receive either a vaccine, oral medication, placebo vaccine or placebo oral medication. Both the vaccine and oral medication target —the main component in amyloid plaques in the brain and a culprit in Alzheimer's—in two different ways: The vaccine helps the body develop antibodies against amyloid beta, while the oral medication blocks an enzyme that creates amyloid beta. Participants may receive the study medications for five to eight years.

"If we are able to show that the vaccine or oral is effective at delaying Alzheimer's among people at higher risk, then this would strongly imply that we are on the right track for developing treatments," Schneider said. "If we can delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years, for example, the incidence of the illness would drop by half. It would also give individuals five more years without symptoms of the illness."

Should the vaccine or prove to be effective in people with two copies of the APOE4 gene, then it would likely also be effective for other people at risk for Alzheimer's, according to Schneider.

"Our clinician-scientists have been actively involved in clinical drug development for Alzheimer's for more than 30 years," said Rohit Varma, dean of the Keck School of Medicine. "This study is a reflection of our continued efforts to conquer one of the greatest health challenges of our time."

For information about how to participate in the study, contact Nadine Diaz at (323) 442-7600 or ndiaz@usc.edu.

Explore further: Men, women and risk of developing Alzheimer disease: Is there a difference?

Related Stories

Men, women and risk of developing Alzheimer disease: Is there a difference?

August 28, 2017
Are female carriers of the apolipoprotein E ?4 allele, the main genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer disease, at greater risk of developing the disease than men? A new article published by JAMA Neurology examines ...

Sleep problems may be early sign of Alzheimer's

July 5, 2017
Poor sleep may be a sign that people who are otherwise healthy may be more at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life than people who do not have sleep problems, according to a study published in the July 5, ...

Alzheimer's gene associated with failure to adapt to cognitive challenge in healthy adults

June 26, 2017
Healthy adults carrying the gene APOE4—the strongest known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD)—may struggle to adapt their brain activity to increasing cognitive demands as they get older, according to a ...

Gene variant protecting against Alzheimer's disease decreases plasma beta-amyloid levels

June 20, 2017
New research from the University of Eastern Finland shows that the APP gene variant protecting against Alzheimer's disease significantly decreases plasma beta-amyloid levels in a population cohort. This is a very significant ...

'Pac-Man' gene implicated in Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2016
A gene that protects the brain from the harmful build-up of amyloid-beta, one of the causative proteins implicated in Alzheimer's disease, has been identified as a new target for therapy by NeuRA researchers.

Unlikely gene variants work together to raise Alzheimer's risk

October 23, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Studying spinal fluid from people at risk for Alzheimer's disease, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a gene variation that had not been considered risky ...

Recommended for you

Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease share common genetics in some patients

November 9, 2018
Genetics may predispose some people to both Alzheimer's disease and high levels of blood lipids such as cholesterol, a common feature of cardiovascular disease, according to a new study by an international team of researchers ...

Artificial intelligence predicts Alzheimer's years before diagnosis

November 6, 2018
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology improves the ability of brain imaging to predict Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the journal Radiology.

Diabetes medications may reduce Alzheimer's disease severity

November 1, 2018
People with Alzheimer's disease who were treated with diabetes drugs showed considerably fewer markers of the disease—including abnormal microvasculature and disregulated gene expressions—in their brains compared to Alzheimer's ...

Massive study confirms that loneliness increases risk of dementia

October 29, 2018
A new Florida State University College of Medicine study involving data from 12,000 participants collected over 10 years confirms the heavy toll that loneliness can take on your health: It increases your risk of dementia ...

Bioactive compound from the Rhodiola plant improves memory

October 25, 2018
In an ageing society, more people are suffering from memory disorders. The progressive loss of memory severely impairs the quality of life of those affected. So far, no drugs are known to prevent age-related cognitive decline.

Machine learning uncovers dementia subtypes with implication for drug trials

October 22, 2018
Machine learning could help to find new treatments for dementia, according to researchers at UCL.

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.