Last week the National Institute on Aging (NIA) announced a $33-million grant to an Alzheimer’s disease (AD) clinical trial that will study people at the greatest genetic risk for developing the disease. This news comes at a time when research into many diseases is beginning to study populations at earlier stages and even before disease onset. Parkinson’s is no exception.
In the newly announced study, researchers seek individuals who do not have Alzheimer’s but carry two copies of a gene called APOE4, the best known genetic risk for Alzheimer’s. Study participants will help determine whether a therapy taken before the disease presents itself may impact the number of people who go on to develop the disease.
Researchers from the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix will measure the therapy’s effect using known biomarkers of the disease, such as amyloid load (the presence of a protein that accumulates in plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s). The study also will test the role of amyloid in the development of Alzheimer’s and will, through imaging and biomarker techniques, help identify faster ways to evaluate other promising prevention therapies in the future.
“We know that Alzheimer’s-related brain changes take place years, even decades, before symptoms appear,” said NIA Director Dr. Richard Hodes. “That really may be the optimal window for drugs that delay progression or prevent the disease altogether.”
Parkinson’s disease (PD) researchers are watching closely the happenings in the AD field and leveraging their successes in our work with PD. Through the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF)’s $55-million biomarker initiative, we hope to identify measurable markers of disease — like amyloid load for Alzheimer’s. PPMI has recently expanded to add a new group of people similar to those in this Alzheimer’s study: individuals who don’t have Parkinson’s, but who do have a risk factor for developing the disease. A major focus is studying loss of sense of smell in people without PD.
Our long-term goal is to identify the tools needed to efficiently test a preventive therapy. With the biomarkers they already have identified, this Alzheimer’s effort is going to be able to definitively determine whether a targeted therapy works. Likewise, identifying biomarkers of Parkinson’s, especially in people who are at risk but have not yet developed the disease, will show us potential drug targets and help us test drugs faster.
“We are excited by the news in Alzheimer’s and how it could impact PD therapeutic development,” said Sohini Chowdhury, senior vice president of research partnerships at MJFF and the project lead on PPMI. “We are following a similar roadmap in Parkinson’s, and to see the biomarkers found in Alzheimer’s lead to new therapies being tested in the clinic is a good sign for what could be possible in Parkinson’s.”