One of the biggest challenges facing Alzheimer’s physicians and researchers lies within the earliest stage: detection. Because Alzheimer’s is hard to identify early on, by the time patients are diagnosed they are already in an advanced stage. But with continued research, physicians are hoping to develop the cure by the year 2025.

What trials tell us 

“What we learn from clinical trials is that it’s very difficult to have a modifying effect once diagnosed,” says Dr. Eliezer Masliah, M.D., Director of National Institute on Aging (NIA) Division of Neuroscience. “We really need to come up with biomarkers that will detect the disease very early.”

Clinical trials provide researchers with a register of patients, those that have and have not been diagnosed, to better understand and develop screening methods for early detection. Dr. Masliah emphasizes the importance of having diversity in the patients that participate in clinical trials, including those who do not show any signs or have a family history of the disease.

Creating the cure

In order to develop the cure by 2025, clinical trials will be “absolutely essential.” While helping us reach the cure, clinical trials also aid the development of disease modifying drugs, which have the potential to improve standard of living for the patient and loved ones.

“We already have some disease modifying drugs that are in phase three clinical trials,” says Dr. Masliah. “These will be very informative. Finding treatment for this disorder is important for not only the individual suffering with the disease but also the family members and caregivers. It will have a major impact.”

What a trial is like

Alzheimer’s clinical trials usually consist of individuals over the age of 50 and typically answer a series of questions to determine eligibility for each study. From that list, specific patients are invited to various studies, either as a control group or based on their risk factors.

There are 31 Alzheimer’s research centers funded by the NIA in the U.S. and each center is recruiting those who either haven’t been diagnosed or are in early stages of the disease to participate. “Check with your local Alzheimer’s center if you’re interested in participating,” Masliah notes, as they run various studies not limited to clinical trials.