Can a memory loss drug already on the market prevent Alzheimer’s disease? Study in the works

Updated: May. 26, 2023 at 4:00 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Could a drug already on the market help prevent Alzheimer’s disease decades before it even shows up in patients prone to the disease?

Local researchers are taking a drug already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for memory loss, and giving it to people at risk for Alzheimer’s and Dementia, long before symptoms begin.

Bill Kerr has lived a memorable life. The retired FBI agent worked on cases like the TWA 800 crash in July of 1996.

He doesn’t want to see his memory fade from Alzheimer’s.

But he’s genetically predisposed to it. His mother suffered from the disease.

“Probably about the time she turned 80, she developed symptoms. It turned out that her sister even had them before that,” he said.

He knows firsthand the toll it takes on a person, and a family.

“There was a period of time where we took care of her for about 18 months,” said Kerr.

After she passed, he found out he had one of the gene variants for Alzheimer’s.

So when he heard about the AHEAD study being conducted at Case Western Reserve and University Hospitals, he was motivated to get involved.

“What we know is that Alzheimer’s disease actually starts in the brain almost 20 years prior to any symptoms,” Dr. Alan Lerner told 19 News. “So if your mom developed symptoms at 80 there changes in the brain have been there possibly since you was 60.”

He heads up the study that is attempting to prevent Alzheimer’s by heading it off at the pass decades before symptoms start, using infusions of an existing drug.

“This medication has been FDA approved already for people with established memory loss. But the Ahead study is taking this one step further, backwards, so to speak,” Dr. Lerner said.

Patients participating don’t have memory loss, yet, but they do have amyloid protein deposits in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Knowing this is a precursor to Alzheimer’s has made it possible to predict the disease developing in people with the protein.

But eliminating or reducing the protein would be a game changer, says Lerner.

Those eligible for the study are 55 to 80 years old, with screening results that indicate amyloid protein in their brain.

It’s a four year study and they’re hoping to enroll 1,400 people in nationwide.

Lerner says they’re about half way there.

Kerr has been involved for a couple years now, at first going to UH, and now receiving the infusion treatments of the drug at home every couple of weeks.

Patients are scanned annually to see if the protein levels are reduced or eliminated, and cognitively tested as well.

“The nice part about it is you’re monitored all the time as far as blood tests, brain scans, MRI’s,” said Kerr.

Dr. Lerner said it’s too early to tell how well it’s working in preventing memory loss, if at all.

But he has full faith that they’re moving in the right direction.

“Heart disease, cancer and infectious disease, in all of those conditions early intervention is associated with better outcomes,” said Dr. Lerner.

“Just because you have the gene variant doesn’t mean you’re going to get Alzheimer’s and I know that an active lifestyle is very conducive towards good health,” said Kerr.

While Kerr continues to get infusion treatments in hopes of staving off Alzheimer’s, he’s doing other things in his control to help prevent memory loss, like playing pickleball a couple times a week and volunteering.

He said contributing to something that could prevent a devastating diagnosis for people is his primary motivation in enrolling in the study.

“Having lived through that being with my mother for a period of time and seeing how difficult it was for her to deal with it is a good motivating factor,” Kerr said. “It would be a game-changer would be remarkable to think that that many people could be helped through these studies.