The School of Medicine has received nearly $4.2 million from the Alzheimer’s Association to accelerate the launch of the first clinical trials to prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The award is the largest research grant in the history of the 32-year-old association.
Randall J. Bateman, MD, principal investigator of the grant and director of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN) Therapeutic Trials Unit at Washington University, will lead the trials, which will determine if the disease can be halted or delayed before problems in memory and other brain functions become apparent.
The research will be conducted through the DIAN, an international research partnership focused on understanding inherited forms of Alzheimer’s. DIAN is headed by John C. Morris, MD, the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Professor of Neurology. Bateman and Morris treat patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
“If we can find a way to delay or prevent dementia in trial participants, that would be a tremendous success story.”
— John C. Morris, MD
“We’re grateful for the Alzheimer’s Association’s support for these trials and for the generous support it has given us throughout the long journey that has led to them,” says Morris, who also is the director of the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University. “We’ve been working for years to find a way to treat Alzheimer’s disease before patients develop dementia, and it’s very exciting to be making plans to start the first of such trials later this year.”
Families enrolled in the DIAN study have inherited forms of Alzheimer’s that cause dementia at a much earlier age than the more common sporadic forms of the disease. Last July, DIAN researchers announced at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference that they could detect biological markers of presymptomatic disease in DIAN participants up to 20 years before the patients were expected to develop memory problems.
“We want to prevent damage and loss of brain cells by intervening early in the disease process — even before outward symptoms are evident because by then it may be too late,” says Bateman. With the advice of a newly formed consortium of 10 pharmaceutical companies, DIAN researchers under Bateman’s leadership will select what they believe to be promising pharmaceuticals for the trials. The goal will be to see if treatment can reduce the biological markers, potentially delaying or preventing the onset of symptoms.