COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Just four months after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to a new Alzheimer’s drug, it’s estimated that tens of thousands of patients in the initial stages of the disease are taking it.
The drug, Lecanemab, is the first-ever medication to slow the process of Alzheimer’s, but it must be given soon after symptoms first appear.
Now, researchers want to know what happens if it’s given to people who have no symptoms at all, which is the impetus for a new drug trial that Ohio State University is helping to lead, with NBC 4’s Colleen Marshall possibly being one of the test subjects.
Lecanemab works by helping to remove amyloid protein that builds up on the brain. It’s a sticky substance that forms, layer by layer, over a period of many years until it finally pushes people into cognitive decline.
Lecanemab helps remove the protein, but can it keep amyloid protein from building up in the first place? That’s what researchers want to know, and Marshall’s brain might help get answers.
“So, this amyloid builds up maybe 15 years before you forget your keys for the first time,” Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Dr. Doublas Scharre said.
You heard it: as much as 15 years, meaning if you develop Alzheimer’s at the age of 65, the amyloid might be slowly building layer by layer on your brain starting at age 50.
“My mom got it in her late 70s, my grandmother got it probably early 80s,” Marshall said. “My grandmother on my dad’s side and my dad’s sister got it late 70s, early 80s. Does that mean that pattern would follow? If I were to develop it? I’m more likely to develop it around the age that they did?”
“Yeah, it is true that usually the next generation would get it about the same time frame as the previous generation,” Scharre said.
So researchers are trying to figure out if Lecanemab, given to high-risk people, will protect their brains.
But it’s not just a matter of picking up a pill and giving it a try. Patients have to qualify by having amyloid in their blood and then evidence that it is on their brain.
“That’s the PET scan,” Scharre said. “So you’re going to get the amyloid PET scan. So this is an image of your brain where they inject you with a radionuclide that attaches to any amyloid that’s in the brain.”
It’s a test that could open the door to unwanted information, but now knowledge is power.
Colleen Marshall started phase one of the testing this week.
Watch A Journey Through Alzheimer’s Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC 4.