Alzheimer's Association awards $4.2M to study young-onset disease

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The Alzheimer's Association has awarded its largest research grant—nearly $4.2 million over four years—to the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network-Therapeutic Trials Unit (DIAN-TTU), based at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, to enable the program to move forward with drug and biomarker trials in people with genetically based, young-onset Alzheimer's disease.

DIAN is a network of 11 research centers established in 2008 by funding from the National Institute on Aging to investigate Alzheimer's disease caused by rare, dominantly inherited genetic mutations. Children of individuals who carry one of these genetic mutations have a 50-50 chance of inheriting the gene mutation, and those who do are destined to develop the disease. Mutation carriers have a young-onset version of Alzheimer's disease; symptoms typically begin in their 30s, 40s or 50s.

DIAN now has a research network investigating dominantly inherited Alzheimer's disease, and includes facilities in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. DIAN is directed by John C. Morris, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, director of the University's Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and former member of the Alzheimer's Association Medical and Scientific Advisory Council.

At the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2011, the DIAN team reported interim data from 150 participants showing that, in this population, measurable brain chemistry changes appear as early as 20 years before the first detectable memory and thinking impairments.

In this group, family history predicts what age the onset of symptoms will begin, which allows for a treatment window during which to test potential therapies. According to the DIAN researchers, the results could demonstrate the feasibility and promise of performing Alzheimer's prevention studies in this population.

The DIAN Therapeutic Trials Unit, funded by this grant of $4.17 million, will leverage the existing DIAN network to launch biomarker and prevention trials that otherwise would be difficult.