RI Hospital Part of Major National Alzheimer’s Disease Research

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


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Over the next five years, Rhode Island Hospital will participate in the next stage of a groundbreaking study on Alzheimer’s Disease. This study will be the first to focus on the initial biological signs of Alzheimer’s, before any of the symptoms appear, and therefore will be the first to focus on the prevention of the disease.  

“We think that Alzheimer’s starts maybe in middle age,” says Dr. Brian R. Ott, director of the Alzheimer's Disease & Memory Disorder Center at Rhode Island Hospital.  “If we understand early changes we will come up with ways to really effectively treat the disease,” he says, “Now we look at end stages, when the damage has been done. It’s too little too late.” 

Finding the signs before the symptoms 

Dr. Ott is leading the Rhode Island segment of ADNI2, or Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The National Institutes of Health has allocated a grant of $40 million for the second phase of this study, which started in 2004. 

“The goal of that study was to define the optimum markers of Alzheimer’s Disease in order to recognize it before it becomes overt." says Dr. Ott. "That project was very successful and now we’re pushing back the diagnosis even further."

This second portion of the study will continue to define subtle changes that occur in the brains of older people, many years before clear signs of Alzheimer’s begins to appear. The study looks at pictures of the brain and measures of blood and spinal fluid.  

“The earliest biomarker we have found so far is beta-amyloid,” Dr. Ott says, “that starts to develop before you have any symptoms at all, about ten to twenty years before."

“But we are also collecting data on behavior and cognitive function that will pick up the latest change in the disease and symptoms,” he says. “Clearly, symptoms lag by years in the biological process. We need to find out the time course of these changes.” 

Paving the way for interventions 

Participants' brains will be examined for any changes, in constitution or function, as people transition from normal cognitive aging to mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s dementia. By examining people who are at risk for the disease and tracking its progression, the researchers hope that they can determine possible interventions. 

As the study expands, Rhode Island Hospital is looking to recruit new patients between 55 and 90 years old. The study runs on a volunteer basis. “It’s important for people to participate in studies like this," Dr. Ott says. "There is no direct benefit from being in the study, but it benefits all of us.” After five years of study, the data will be shared between 1,700 researchers in this worldwide collaborative effort. 

Dr. Ott compares this process to researching heart conditions. “We took a long time to think about what causes people to get heart attacks and strokes, but now we know more—stress, high cholesterol, family history," he says. "We know that these factors come together to change the vessels years before you develop a heart attack.” He hopes this study of the earliest evincing signs will give doctors a greater understanding of how to obviate the disease for future generations. 

For more information on the study, or to participate contact Esther Oden at 444-7691 or visit www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers.


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