PHILADELPHIA — A new clinical trial will soon begin testing whether early medical intervention in people at risk for Alzheimer’s can slow down progression of disease pathology before symptoms emerge, as outlined in Science Translational Medicine. For the first time, people with no Alzheimer’s disease symptoms will be told of their risk status before being asked to join the randomized controlled trial. As part of the overall prevention trial, Penn Medicine neurodegenerative ethics experts will monitor how learning about their risk of developing Alzheimer’s impacts trial participants.
Alzheimer’s disease afflicts more than 13 percent of individuals over the age of 65, and remains one of the most feared consequences of aging.
“In order to ethically conduct a study where patients will learn they have a greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease dementia, we’ve integrated continual assessments of potential participants throughout the process, to ensure that they are ready to receive information about their amyloid status and aren’t having any adverse reactions after finding out,” said Jason Karlawish, MD, professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics and Health Policy in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Karlawish directs the Penn Neurodegenerative Disease Ethics and Policy Program. “This study is an important step in determining the consequences of being tested for Alzheimer’s disease before the person has disabling cognitive impairments.”
The A4 trial requires that patients enrolled must have one of the pathologies typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease dementia, which will be assessed using a brain PET scan that measures amyloid. Given that studies have shown that about one third of clinically normal older individuals have evidence of amyloid plaque accumulation but may not develop any cognitive symptoms within their lifetime, the patients who are enrolled in the trial based on positive amyloid results may or may not go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease dementia.
“In addition to the study’s primary aims – looking at whether early treatment can slow cognitive decline – we will carefully measure how disclosure impacts cognitive test performance, the perception of cognitive symptoms, quality of life and perceived risk of Alzheimer’s in participants with and without evidence of amyloid accumulation,” said Karlawish.
For more information on the new A4 trial (Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s Disease), visit www.adcs.org/Studies/A4.aspx.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report‘s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital — the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.
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