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Inherited Alzheimer’s Damage Begins Decades before Symptoms

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease may actually slow once symptoms appear, according to a study investigating an inherited form of the disease.

In research published in Science Translational Medicine, Professor Colin Masters of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health has found that rapid neuronal damage begins 10–20 years before symptoms appear. “As part of this research we have observed other changes in the brain that occur when symptoms begin to appear. There is actually a slowing of the neuro­degeneration,” Masters said.

Autosomal-dominant Alzheimer’s affects families with a genetic mutation that predisposes them to the crippling disease. These families provide crucial insight into the development of Alzheimer’s because they can be identified years before symptoms develop.

The information gleaned from this group will also influence treatment offered to those living with the more common age-related version. Only about 1% of those with Alzheimer’s have the genetic type of the disease.

The next part of the study involves a clinical trial. Using a range of imaging techniques and analysis of blood and cerebro­spinal fluid, individuals from the US, UK and Australia will be observed as they trial two experimental drugs to test their safety, side-effects and changes within the brain.

Those who either know they have a genetic mutation that causes autosomal-dominant Alzheimer’s or who don’t know their genetic status but have a parent or sibling with the mutation are invited to join the trial by emailing dian@florey.edu.au