For many people, Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most frightening prospects of growing old. This common form of dementia, which is characterized by progressive mental deterioration and memory loss, affects millions of people around the world, making it extremely difficult for patients to live out the final stages of their lives normally. For this reason, a research team from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland is attempting to find a way to identify early signs of the disease, while also looking for drugs that can help those at the highest risk.
The European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia (Epad) project will establish a register of 24,000 subjects across Europe, of which 1,500 will be invited to participate in second-phase drug trials. Over the course of five years, the project will attempt to fit particular drugs to patients with specific biomarkers in their blood or cerebrospinal fluid, as well as qualities identified through brain scans. The researchers hope this will allow them to highlight long-term treatments that can be administered years before a patient begins showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Currently, most Alzheimer’s trials rely on patients who have already begun showing signs of the disease to gather information and test potential therapies. However, research shows that the disease most likely begins developing decades before symptoms appear. By starting the tests earlier, Epad is not only able to study the progression and indications of the disease itself, but may be able to determine if certain treatments are more effective if administered at an earlier stage. The researchers also plan to test drugs used to treat other conditions, such as inflammatory disorders, to see if they can combat early Alzheimer’s.
To conduct their study, Epad will be relying on samples collected by the UK Biobank, an ambitious biobanking process that has begun collecting blood, urine and saliva samples, as well as full-body scans, from 500,000 volunteers. Alzheimer’s patients have been found to have abnormal levels of beta amyloid protein in their brains, fibers known as tau tangles in their nerve cells, and a gene variant called ApoE; the volunteers for the Epad project will be selected based on the presence of this criteria.
“Use of a high quality Biobank Information Management System (BIMS) is essential in this study and others like it,” said Cheryl Michels, President and CEO, Freezerworks. “We know that access to real-time annotated sample inventory data will enhance the researchers’ ability to get the answers that patients and advocates are waiting for.”
The study currently has a budget of £50 million, or $75,677,500. Scientists with the University of Edinburgh’s research team estimate that it could take three or four years to determine which drugs are likely to be effective. However, once the data is collected, potential therapies could likely be sent straight to third-phase trials, the final stage before medications are introduced to the market.