Health Check: Alzheimer's disease prevention trial

    Seventy-year-old Peter Bristol is getting an infusion he hopes, over time, will prevent memory loss. It started when the retired horticulturalist started forgetting things.

    "The plant names, friends names," Bristol said.

    The Rhode Island man was worried because his mother had Alzheimer's disease and his brother is living with the memory-robbing disease. Bristol went to Butler Hospital to undergo extensive memory testing, which turned out to be normal.

    But then he had a PET scan, and it showed a buildup of amyloid protein, often a precursor to Alzheimer's disease, and that's when he learned about a new prevention trial.

    "This is really a landmark study because it opens a new chapter in the fight against Alzheimer's and it puts the prevention of Alzheimer's on par with the prevention of the other major diseases like heart disease and cancer," said Dr. Stephen Salloway.

    To qualify, participants must be between the ages of 65 and 85.

    "No significant memory complaints. We all have memory complaints, but people are still functioning well. It's not interfering with their day to day life," Salloway said.

    Bristol qualified and every month for three years, he'll be infused with a medication, which takes about an hour of his time.

    "It has a funny name. It's called solanezumab," Salloway said. "And that's a targeted treatment against the amyloid plaques that build up in Alzheimer's."

    It's not a new treatment. It's been studied before in people with mild Alzheimer's disease with some success.

    "So, we think that testing it earlier in people who don't have any significant symptoms yet may be even more beneficial," Salloway said.

    This is a double-blind placebo study, which means Bristol has a 50-50 chance he's getting the medication. He's fine with that. As a scientist, he's results oriented.

    "If there is a therapy out there, if there can be some kind of a protectant who's going to benefit, not necessarily me so much but my children and my grandchildren," Bristol said.

    This is a major study being done at 60 sites worldwide. Bristol is the first to take part.

    This study is a partnership between the National Institutes of Health and Eli Lilly, the maker of the experimental drug, and it's being coordinated by the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study.

    At least 20 percent of the study participants must be a minority -- African-American or Hispanic -- two groups in which the incidence of Alzheimer's disease is higher.

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