By Alex Fees
St. Louis (KSDK) - On the campus of Washington University this weekend are representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, the Alzheimer's Association, and the National Institute on Aging.
They are among people attending eighth Leonard Berg Symposium, titled "The Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease," presented by the Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.
Dr. John Morris is the director.
Speaking of the history of Alzheimer's research in general, Morris said, "We've been through a period of high hope for drugs to treat Alzheimer's. They've all failed."
Morris said he believes those drugs failed because they were administered too late in the disease process.
"And we know now the disease process begins many years before symptoms begin," said Morris. "So we have to identify this pre-symptomatic stage of Alzheimer's and intervene with drugs at that time."
That is the basis for the DIAN Study. DIAN stands for Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network. For the study, researchers focused on children of patients with a rare genetic mutation that causes early on-set Alzheimer's disease and early death. The children of affected patients have a 50 percent chance of getting the disease," said Morris. "The DIAN Study is the most powerful study to look for pre-symptomatic Alzheimer's disease. We have individuals from rare families in which a gene when mutated causes Alzheimer's disease. And we can identify people who have the mutation prior to any symptoms of Alzheimer's. These people are destined to become symptomatic. And we can try to intervene before that happens to try to delay the on-set of symptoms or even prevent it."
Morris said the new development is not the combination of medications, but intervention at an early stage.
"We will be using drugs that have been tested in people with symptomatic Alzheimer's disease. They have shown to have an effect on the brain lesions of Alzheimer's, but they just haven't helped the people in terms of their memory and thinking, we think because it was too late," he said.
Morris said this new approach treats Alzheimer's disease in a way similar to how cardiologists treat heart disease.
"We think Alzheimer's disease is a chronic illness," said Morris. "It will last many years. Like many chronic illnesses, it's much better to prevent the symptoms from occurring, rather than wait and treat the damage after symptoms have occurred."
Morris said it's going to be years before researchers know if they can truly prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease with this rare mutation. Then they have to transfer that information to the much more common form of Alzheimer's that affects older adults.
He said they hope to launch DIAN trials within months, certainly by 2013. The initial studies are scheduled to go for about five years.