New Study to Explore Possibility of Delaying the Onset of Alzheimer's Disease

03/16/99    Portland, Ore.

Oregon Health Sciences University is participating in a nationwide research study to determine whether a drug can help delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease in patients with mild cognitive impairment.

"These are patients who are just beginning to have regular problems with memory but haven't progressed to Alzheimer's disease," said Jeffrey Kaye, M.D., professor of neurology and director of the Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center at OHSU. "We all misplace our car keys. But signs of mild cognitive impairment might be losing your keys several times a week or repeatedly forgetting you've got something boiling on the stove."

The clinical trial involves testing vitamin E, along with an investigational drug approved by the FDA for symptomatic treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Some study patients will get vitamin E alone, others will get it in combination with the investigational drug, and a third group will get a placebo.

"The idea of prevention is a unique new idea for Alzheimer's disease," said Kaye. "Since Alzheimer's disease is associated with aging, if we can successfully delay the onset of the disease past a normal human life span, it will no longer be a concern."

Much research on Alzheimer's disease currently focuses on the role of unattached oxygen molecules--known as "free radicals"--that can accelerate cell death. Previous research has shown that vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that reins in those free radicals. In an earlier clinical trial on patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, vitamin E slowed the progression of the disease. That study laid the groundwork for the current Alzheimer's prevention study.

Recruiting for the mild cognitive impairment study may be tricky, said Kaye. OHSU will be seeking as many as 20 men and women between the ages of 55 to 90 with an obvious memory problem but no other cognitive impairment. "The difficulty in finding these patients is that they probably have not thought to see their doctor about their memory problems. They may not even be aware they have a problem," said Kaye. " We are hoping that in addition to those patients who step forward themselves, relatives of potential study patients will refer their loved ones to us."

Each volunteer must have a friend, family member or other individual who sees him or her at least 10 hours every week and can accompany the volunteer on regular clinic visits. Participants should be willing to participate in the study for its entire three-year length. During this time, they will be evaluated on an ongoing basis by a qualified health care professional. If volunteers should convert to Alzheimer's disease while participating in the study, they will automatically be given the investigational agent and have follow-up by a physician for the duration of the study.

An estimated four million Americans, including approximately 60,000 Oregonians, currently suffer from Alzheimer's disease--making it one of the most serious health concerns facing older men and women. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment appear to be a increased risk, developing Alzheimer's disease at a rate of 12 to 15 percent a year compared to 1 to 2 percent a year of those over 65 in the general population.