Alzheimer's is a disease that robs patients of their memories, personality and independence. Now, there's a groundbreaking international study taking place right here in St. Louis that might prevent it.
It’s called the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network trial by Washington University. Participants have a rare gene that can lead to what doctors call Early Onset Familial Alzheimer's disease, which means people can develop it younger than 65.
Early onset familial Alzheimer disease is hereditary and marked by Alzheimer symptoms that appear at an unusually early age. The study tests the idea of how to prevent the disease from starting in the first place.
Carrie Richardson Whitfield, 35, lost her father and three uncles to Early Onset Alzheimer’s, the oldest living to just 45. The mother of three carries the gene for the disease of which her 36-year-old brother is already showing signs.
The study has more than 260 participants from various countries including Spain, France, Australia and the United Kingdom. Participants from Germany will be joining the study too.
Whitfield said she hasn’t showed any symptoms so far. Brian Whitney showed 5 On Your Side a family photo from 1959. He has fourteen relatives in the picture. Eleven of them died from the disease.
Whitney has the gene that leads to Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. His father does too. However, they are not showing any symptoms. Whitney said he wants to take part in the study to help find a cure, so that his daughter can avoid the hereditary disease. Whitney said he also wants to bring awareness to Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
“It’s not an old person’s disease," he said. "In our family, our average age of onset is 50. I know families who are dealing with people who lost parents at the age of 35 or 36 to Early Onset Alzheimer’s, with symptoms shown as early as 31 or 30.”
Dr. Randall Batemann of Washington University’s School of Medicine is the lead investigator of the DIAN-TU study. He said they might know by 2019 if the first two drugs being tested in the study could help fight the disease.
Batemann said the families that have the genetic mutations are incredibly rare and exist in different pockets throughout the world. Most of these families have never met another family who has the same kind of disease and many of these families thought they were the only people in the world to have the disease.
Bateman said the study is giving the family hope. If you would like to see if you qualify for the study, click here.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in this country, and is the only disease among the 10 deadliest that cannot be prevented, slowed or cured.