(Paris) — Brain and blood chemistry changes that indicate Alzheimer’s disease can be detected 10 to 20 years before memory loss and other cognitive symptoms develop, according to doctors studying families with inherited forms of the disease.
Studying people genetically destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease at a young age will help researchers understand the changes that occur prior to the development of the “type of Alzheimer’s everyone recognizes — the [non-inherited] form of the disease that typically strikes people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s,” says John C. Morris, MD, of Washington University in St. Louis.
Morris heads the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN), which is recruiting about 400 people whose families harbor genetic mutations that virtually guarantee a person will develop Alzheimer’s at the same young age as the parent, usually before age 60.
As part of the NIH-funded program, participants will also be enrolled in clinical trials of potentially disease-modifying drugs that target the underlying processes thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
The hope is that such drugs will work early on to delay mental decline and slow the progressive degeneration of brain tissue. Currently available drugs like Aricept, Cognex, Exelon, and Razadyne boost mental functioning in a small percentage of people for a time, but none halts the inevitable progression of the disease.
Because study participants are almost certain to develop Alzheimer’s disease at a young age, fewer of them need to be followed for a shorter amount of time to show a drug works in the early stages of the disease than if high-risk people in the general population are studied, says DIAN member Randall Bateman, MD, also of Washington University in St. Louis.
The cholesterol-lowering statin drugs that have revolutionized the prevention and treatment of heart disease were first tested in people with an inherited form of high cholesterol, Bateman tells WebMD.