BOSTON (CBS) – Alzheimer’s dementia affects five million Americans and those numbers are growing exponentially.
Now scientists around the country, including here in Boston, are launching a landmark study to try to stop the disease before it takes hold.
Betty Simino recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s and felt helpless as she watched her mother deteriorate over time.
“Not being to help her,” explains Simino. “I could help her and do her fingernails and comb her hair and talk to her and hold her hand, but there was nothing I could do.”
Now at the age of 71, Simino could be facing the same fate.
Although she doesn’t have significant memory problems now, brain scans show that she, too, is a risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.
“Number one, I don’t want to go through it,” says Simino. “But more importantly, I don’t want my family, my children, my grandchildren to have to deal with that.”
“The A4 study is one of the most exciting studies, if not the most exciting study, in the history of Alzheimer’s Disease,” says Dr. Robert Stern, who oversees clinical research at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
He is referring to a first of it’s kind, multi-center effort to prevent Alzheimer’s dementia in people at risk.
“Once brain tissue is destroyed, we can’t get it back, so if we wait too long into the disease, it may be too late to treat it,” explains Dr. Stern.
In the A4 study, patients without significant memory loss will be screened with special brain scans looking for the presence of amyloid, a protein that clutters up the brain in Alzheimer’s patients and can appear years before memory loss begins.
“Once we show that and put them on a medication that has as it’s goal, to remove that bad amyloid protein,” says Dr. Stern, “We might be able to change the course of the disease.”
The drug is called solanezumab and study participants will come to get monthly infusions for three years at the BU School of Medicine’s General Clinical Research Center.
Dr. Stern says if this anti-amyloid drug works, successfully removing amyloid from the brain and preventing irreversible damage, “This would be such a game changer. It would mean huge reduction in suffering. That’s what it’s all about.”
Simino and her husband of nearly 44 years say avoiding the ravages of Alzheimer’s would mean everything to them.
“For her to be able to maintain independence would be fantastic,” says Darrell Simino.
“I can tell you I would be blessed. Truly blessed,” says Betty Simino.
There will be a number of sites around the country involved in the A4 study, including BU and Brigham and Women’s.
The BU School of Medicine is actively recruiting patients for this as well as for other Alzheimer’s research.
For more information, you can call BU ADC recruitment coordinator, Alexandra Bourias, at 617-414-1077 or go to www.bu.edu/alzresearch.
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