A new digital healthcare program developed by three big-name medical systems has ambitious plans to sign up 200,000 adults over 50 to better understand and treat Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a chronic disease that impacts five million patients every year. But unlike other chronic diseases such as heart disease where symptoms can be more easily tracked, that’s not the case with Alzheimer’s, says Dr. Paul Aisen, director of the USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute in San Diego.
Researchers working on heart disease can go to doctors to find appropriate trial participants, but the people who will benefit most from Alzheimer’s disease treatments are healthy and have never seen a memory disorder specialist, he says.
“Using traditional methods to recruit participants for Alzheimer’s clinical trials is far too slow and expensive,” Aisen says. “We’re incorporating web-based assessments to build a bridge between the problem and the solution.”
Clinical trials on promising drug treatments for Alzheimer’s have failed because patients were treated too late in the disease after irrevocable damage had already been done, Aisen says.
To get a better handle on tracking the onslaught of Alzheimer’s and in developing better treatments, Keck School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Cleveland Clinic have built an online research tool to direct healthy people at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s into appropriate clinical trials aimed at preventing dementia.
The three academic medical centers have developed an online platform—the Alzheimer Prevention Trials Web study—that allows people who are 50 or older to monitor their cognitive and mental health over time. Participants create an online profile that asks about personal health, educational history and exercise habits. These questions address the top risk factors linked to Alzheimer’s, Aisen says.
Among the main predictors for diagnoses of Alzheimer’s are age, family history of dementia, performance on cognitive tests and an individual’s sense of whether their memory has changed, says Dr. Michael Rafii, clinical director of the USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute.
Participants take a 20-minute brain test every three months. If their cognitive health begins to decline and their profile indicates they are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, they can join a nearby clinical trial, Rafi says.
The website launched on Dec. 22, and so far, 2,773 people have created profiles. But the academic medical centers have ambitious plans to recruit at least 200,000 people over 50 to join the online study.
The new digital healthcare program is meant to fast-track Alzheimer’s research, using the web to track patients over time in a more cost-effective manner. “It’s difficult and expensive to enroll people who have Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains but none of the symptoms,” Aisen says.
“Our online tool will cut the price tag of early Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials by two-thirds because we won’t have to spend millions testing people who won’t develop Alzheimer’s disease,” Aisen said. “You wouldn’t give an eye exam to a blind person. Our online tool identifies people who would be good candidates for pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials.”
It took USC ATRI and its partners more than three years to recruit 1,150 participants for an Alzheimer’s clinical trial focused on people who don’t yet show symptoms. They administered 4,500 PET scans, spinal taps and other procedures to determine if the potential participants had an overabundance of amyloid plaques and tau tangles—protein indicators of future mental decline. The price tag for these procedures surpassed $50 million, Aisen says.
“We aim to complete recruitment for early Alzheimer’s clinical trials in a matter of months rather than years,” Aisen says. “We’ve been moving far too slowly on developing new treatment options for Alzheimer’s. It’s time to utilize the latest technologies to accelerate the process. This free online tool does just that.”
Keep up with latest coverage on digital healthcare by signing up for Internet Health Management News today.