A large and potentially groundbreaking drug trial holds the promise of a new way to treat Alzheimer’s disease, but the test will require thousands of healthy volunteers who may be especially difficult to recruit, in part because of a simple fact about the widely feared illness: Those who have, or are likely to get, Alzheimer’s disease may not want to know it.
The Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s, or A4 Study, is the first to try to prevent memory loss by identifying and treating people whose brains show the earliest changes related to the disease, years before they begin to lose cognitive function.
Volunteers aged 65 to 85 will be screened for the presence of amyloid plaque, clumps of a protein found in the fatty membrane surrounding nerve cells, that builds up in the brain as people age and seems to be connected to Alzheimer’s. Researchers hope the drug could significantly curtail the disease, which currently afflicts 5 million Americans and is projected to affect 16 million by 2050.
Over the past two months, researchers at 60 sites across the U.S., Canada and Australia began seeking as many as 10,000 volunteers to be screened for the 39-month trial, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the pharmaceutical company Ely Lilly & Co., and others.