Brigham and Women’s Hospital Hopes to Recruit At-Risk Residents for Global Alzheimer’s Study

GAP-Net Site Brigham and Women’s Hospital Center for Alzheimer Research & Treatment (CART), was featured in their local news station about the importance of volunteer participation in clinical research.

A local hospital is now part of a global effort to test a drug that may delay the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s disease.

The progressive neurological disorder often runs in families, so relatives of patients are eager to learn the results.

Zoe Fort is one of them.

Her paternal grandmother lived with the disease for 10 years before she died last December at 95.

“We certainly had many struggles,” Fort said. “It’s like you’re watching the turn from somebody that you knew very well to somebody that has no idea who you are when you walk in the room sometimes. They just so desperately want to remember — and they can’t.”

Nearly 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Experts believe that number could double to 12 million by 2050.

At the highest risk are people of color. Black people are twice as likely as their white peers to develop the disease. For Hispanics, the risk is one-and-a-half times higher.

To diagnose the disease, doctors use brain scans to identify the buildup of a protein called amyloid. It’s one of the signature signs, but often, these scans aren’t done until symptoms of memory loss have already appeared.

A new clinical trial, known as the AHEAD Study, hopes to identify those patients as much as 20 years earlier, using both biological risk factors and brain scans.

The goal is to intervene with a drug called lecanemab that may slow, or even stall, the disease.

“We know it removes amyloid from the brain,” said Dr. Seth Gale, who runs the trial site at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We’re trying to see if you do that early, we can demonstrate that changes of thinking and memory are different than the placebo arm of the study.”

But recruiting a diverse population of participants is challenging.

For the AHEAD Study, researchers hope to enroll about 1,400 people. About 15% should be people of color, but so far, the number of Black Americans in the study is less than 5%.

“We haven’t been super successful,” Gale said. “It’s been a challenge for our site for this study. It’s a challenge, nationally, for research.”

Donna Walker recently applied.

“If there’s any kind of drugs or anything like that, that will help prevent it, I want to be a part of that,” she said.

Walker found out about the study through a community program in Dorchester. She’s 66 years old and healthy, but she still worries about Alzheimer’s in her family. Her mother and grandmother both had the disease.

“I don’t want to have to go through that,” Walker said.

Fort said she understands that pain, but also the potential for this possible treatment.

She now works as a research assistant at Brigham, explaining the details of the study to anyone who’s interested.

“I talk to them about what it was like seeing my grandmother and what this means to me to be here,” Fort said. “I have a very strong connection to this work and it makes it all the more important for me to be recruiting people that look like me into these studies.”

Click here or call 857-307-0345 to enroll in the AHEAD Study.

Originally posted by WCVB5 News on March 8, 2022.

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