The trial, which will take place at over 50 sites in the United States and Canada beginning in March, is being supported with American Recovery and Reinvestment Funds (ARRA). Overall, the study, known as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), is receiving $24 million in stimulus funds.
The lead researcher at Albany Med, Earl Zimmerman, M.D., director of that Alzheimer’s Center, says the broad goal is to make it easier to test new drugs or other treatments for the disease by developing better methods of detection and evaluation. “In a nutshell, what we’re trying to do is find a marker or measure that shows that a person has Alzheimer’s disease, preferably in its earliest stages. Right now, we don’t have anything such as a blood test or scan to rapidly and accurately diagnose someone with Alzheimer’s disease, like we do, for instance, with cancer or diabetes.”
Current methods of diagnosis include oral and written memory tests that need to be administered over time in order to measure changes, especially in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which may or may not be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. “This tends to make clinical drug trials costly and cumbersome, because we have to include so many people in order to truly capture those with Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Zimmerman.
According to Dr. Zimmerman, this study will look to see if there are abnormalities that show up on MRIs of the brain, in addition to searching for biomarkers, or measures, of early Alzheimer’s. This will include looking at spinal fluid, genetic tests and other evidence that consistently shows up in people with early Alzheimer’s. “There’s some evidence right now that we may be able to diagnose the disease looking at compounds found in spinal fluid; meaning perhaps in the future a spinal tap could diagnose early Alzheimer’s,” says Zimmerman, pointing out, of course, that this theory will need to be proven.
He says Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed in later stages or during an autopsy by the presentation of amyloidal plaques in the brain, however, he says that these plaques are not visible on imaging tests in earlier stages, and may not even be present early on. “So, short of brain surgery, we really cannot use this as a marker at this time,” Dr. Zimmerman says.
“With increasing evidence that Alzheimer’s may start in people in their 40s or 50s, it’s important that we utilize this study to develop better diagnostic tests, which may result in a diagnosis and preventive strategies at an earlier stage of the disease” adds Zimmerman.
This study is one of numerous clinical and research trials being conducted at the Advanced Neuro Imaging Research Center at Albany Med – a partnership with GE Global research – which houses a high-tech GE Signa 3.0 Tesla MRI, the only one of its kind in upstate New York.
Albany Medical Center is northeastern New York’s only academic health sciences center. It consists of Albany Medical College, Albany Medical Center Hospital and the Albany Medical Center Foundation, Inc. Additional information about Albany Medical Center can be found at www.amc.edu.
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