Study at Barrow Aims to Stop Alzheimer’s Disease Before It Starts

With cases of Alzheimer’s disease swiftly multiplying, researchers at Barrow Neurological Institute have joined a pioneering nationwide clinical study aimed at stemming Alzheimer’s before it begins to cause irreversible damage.

By targeting pre-symptomatic participants, the study represents a strategic shift from treatment to prevention and offers a ray of hope in the ongoing battle against Alzheimer’s, which has no cure. Known as A4 (the Anti-Amyloid in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s study), the study seeks to delay Alzheimer’s-related brain damage and curb memory loss before any outward signs develop. Healthy people between the ages of 65 and 85 with normal memory are needed to join the clinical trial.

“This is a landmark study because we are treating patients with detected Alzheimer’s brain changes before the onset of symptoms,” says Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorder Division at Barrow Neurological Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. “In recent years, we have experienced very disappointing results in treatments for patients who have dementia do to Alzheimer’s. This has left the research community frustrated and many patients without hope.”

The A4 study takes a new approach to Alzheimer’s research by testing for an elevated level of a protein known as ‘amyloid’ in the brain. Scientists believe that elevated amyloid may play an important role in the eventual development of memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

“This is a new approach that would target people who do not have symptoms yet and thus prevent the disease and its terrible damage,” Dr. Sabbagh says. “This drug could be the game-changer.”

Gregory Allen, 68, is a retired civil engineer in Coronado, Calif., who makes monthly trips to Barrow to participate in the study. “From my standpoint, I think that it’s a no-lose situation,” Allen said. “If you go through the first part of the study, you will have the scan done and they will determine if you have the amyloid plaques. Based on that, you will be able to take the medicine that can remove the amyloid plaques. And if they don’t find any, that’s great news. Either way, you’ve won.”

From my standpoint, I think that it’s a no-lose situation.

Gregory Allen, A4 Study Participant

More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, according to Alzheimer’s Association statistics, and nearly one in three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or other dementia. In Arizona, the number of Alzheimer’s victims aged 65 and older is projected to leap from 130,000 in 2016 to 200,000 in 2025, according to the association.

Barrow was selected to participate in the nationwide study shortly after Dr. Sabbagh joined the institute in 2015. To date, Barrow has screened eight participants and will continue enrollment throughout the duration of the study. Researchers seek volunteers who have experienced the earliest changes in their brain associated with the disease but don’t have any symptoms.

To be screened as a possible subject for the trial, call (602) 406-7165.