Turning To Baby Boomers To Save The Next Generation From Alzheimer's

Today, more than 46 million people worldwide live with dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease International estimates that number will increase to more than 130 million people by 2050. Now imagine within the next 10 years that we're able to alter the trajectory of Alzheimer's disease and find a treatment that could stave off symptoms before we lose another generation. We would avoid the pain and suffering of the hundreds of millions of people impacted by Alzheimer's and the economic cost of the disease, which is estimated to be nearly $1 trillion dollars -- the value of Apple and Google, combined.

This is exactly what we aim to do with the Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative (API) Generation Study, which launched this month.

After decades in medicine, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact that Alzheimer's disease can have on patients and family members. I have witnessed patients lose their identities and their ability to function as the disease takes hold. Families are often at a loss, struggling to understand and adapt to the confusing changes that happen to their loved ones. It is a heartbreaking journey.

Unfortunately, these stories are only becoming more prevalent. The World Health Organization sees Alzheimer's disease as a public health priority. Simply put, the disease will overwhelm us unless we do something to end it.

The Generation Study is testing whether either or both of two investigational compounds -- an active immunotherapy and an oral medication -- compared to placebo might prevent or delay the emergence of Alzheimer's symptoms in people who are at particularly high risk for developing the disease at older ages because of a relatively uncommon genetic profile they inherited from both parents.

Our study will enroll individuals in the Baby Boomer generation, specifically those people who are 60 to 75 years of age and currently show no signs of cognitive impairment -- and who also inherited two copies of the e4 type of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, the major genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease at older ages. Only about 2 percent of the world's population carries two copies of the APOE4 gene.

The Generation Study is unique in being the first trial to require participants to learn whether they carry none, one or two copies of the APOE4 gene. Learning one's genetic status can be emotionally wrenching, so we will provide genetic counseling to those willing to participate. Individuals will speak with a healthcare provider, such as a genetic counselor, to discuss their APOE results and address their questions and concerns.

The Generation Study is among several API efforts intended to find faster ways to test promising new treatments by focusing on people at high risk for developing Alzheimer's because of their age and genetic status. Thanks to the altruism of our volunteer participants, we are able to avoid the costs and time associated with testing investigational drugs in much larger population samples, which would inevitably include people who are at minimal risk of developing Alzheimer's and whose results would provide little insight on a potential treatment.

If we find that either or both of these investigational compounds are successful in preventing or delaying the development of Alzheimer's symptoms in high-risk individuals, this would be a huge win for all of us. And it would also open the door to other studies with even greater reach.

Almost 25 percent of the world's population carries one copy of the APOE4 gene, and they account for almost two-thirds of all persons with Alzheimer's disease. Can success in the Generation Study lead to success in other people at risk? That's a very exciting question.

Even if this research only results in our ability to delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease by five years, the impact could be enormous. Some estimates indicate that even a short delay could reduce the number of Alzheimer's cases by 50 percent. That's quite a legacy for Baby Boomers to leave future generations.

If you'd like to learn more about participating in the Generation Study, visit GeneMatch (www.endALZnow.org/GeneMatch), a tool that we're using to recruit potential study participants.

Dr. Pierre Tariot is the co-principal investigator for the Generation Study. He is the director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute and a board-certified physician in internal medicine and geriatric psychiatry. After intensive training in developing new treatments for Alzheimer's disease at the National Institutes of Health, he spent 20 years as a professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, where he directed a program dedicated to the care and study of people with Alzheimer's. He has devoted his career to helping patients and families cope with the effects of dementia and is a recognized leader in the development of new Alzheimer's treatments. He has published hundreds of scientific articles, is a widely sought-after speaker and consultant, and has won numerous awards for his service and research.