Hope is what pushes Jeanette Rees to make the two-hour drive to Gainesville from her home in Murphy, NC.
Showing early brain-related signs of Alzheimer’s disease, the 74-year-old woman plans to battle the progressive brain disease through a clinical trial being conducted at the Center for Advanced Research and Education in Gainesville.
“I’m in the last stage of mild cognitive impairment,” Rees said in a visit last week to the center. “The neurologist basically said, ‘You won’t get better,’ but they’re hoping with the (trial) medication to stop it there and avoid going into (full-blown) Alzheimer’s.”
Doctors are hoping for even more from an experimental drug that not only could stop the formation of Alzheimer’s-defining plaques and tangles in the brain but “to dissolve what’s there,” said Dr. Chris Recknor, a Gainesville internist and co-founder of the center at 2350 Limestone Parkway.
“This is a game changer,” said Recknor, whose wife, Dr. Julie Recknor, also helped start the center and is the clinical trials manager.
The drug, if it performs as hoped, “is like taking a scab off,” he said. “The skin is normal underneath it, and the nerves are normal. We just need to get that (area) cleaned off so the nerve functions (properly).”
The center is among a handful of sites in the Southeast and 15 in the U.S. taking part in the three-year trial. Efforts have been underway since Aug. 1 to have 1,500 people worldwide — 700 in the U.S. alone — participate in the trial.
“Finding a cure for everyone would be a wonderful thing for everyone,” said Dr. Angela Ritter, a South Hall family practitioner participating in the research. “All we have now are medications that help slow down the disease.”
Participants must have Alzheimer’s or show Alzheimer’s symptoms to be trial candidates. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
To qualify for the trial, prospects must go through a medical screening and take a memory test. If a magnetic resonance imaging of the brain looks OK, doctors conduct a positron emission tomography, or PET, scan which examines the brain using a special dye with radioactive tracers.
“Everything in the trial is free,” Ritter said.
The drug used in the test specifically targets the plaques and tangles in the brain that indicate Alzheimer’s.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “in the Alzheimer’s brain, abnormal levels of this naturally occurring protein clump together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function.”
Other parts of the Alzheimer’s patient’s brain indicate a particular protein, known as tau, bunching up or becoming twisted in tangles.
This is the second trial with the drug, part of the process to getting it approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“This trial stairsteps the medication to see the maximum (dosage) amount a person can tolerate,” Recknor said.
“The neatest thing about (this trial) is we can diagnose (Alzheimer’s) and see it (in imaging results), so the person” gets definitive answers about their condition, he said. “Plus, they get access to a medication, which I think is really good, and they can stay on their present meds.”
For both Recknor and Ritter, the research has personal meaning, as well.
“My mom looked after my grandparents (both with Alzheimer’s) for about 12 years,” Recknor said. “She just wasn’t going to put them in a home. She had some people come in and help, but (caregiving) took away her life.”
Alzheimer’s “runs in my family,” Recknor said. “My grandmother had it and my mother’s going through it right now. I took her car keys away a little over a year ago — maybe two years ago — and now we’re at assisted living.”.
Research overall has increased in addressing the disease, which affects over 5 million Americans and burdens not only patients but caregivers and families.
Researchers “are working aggressively to find a cure for this disease,” Ritter said.
“I’m hopeful. We’ve got to have some movement with this,” Recknor said. “We really do.”
Alzheimer’s clinical trial
For more information about participating in a clinical trial involving Alzheimer’s disease, contact Tina Foreman at the Center for Advanced Research and Education at 678-928-6476 or 678-928-6500, option 1, or by emailing her, firstname.lastname@example.org.