WU receives $4.2 million grant to research rare genetic mutation associated with Alzheimer’s disease

Washington University’s Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) received a $4.2 million grant to research Alzheimer’s disease prevention in people who are prone to the disease due to genetic mutation.

The Alzheimer’s Association awarded the grant to the DIAN’s Therapeutic Trials Unit in late March.

The funding will help scientists achieve a better understanding of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in order to develop effective prevention and treatment programs. It will also allow them to accelerate current research into drug and biomarker design for hereditary and premature cases of the disease.

The grant will allow researchers to establish an infrastructure for pilot trials of drug therapies for dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease. Preclinical studies of potential treatments are expected to have higher success rates and more similar trials will be launched in the near future. Part of the grant will also be allocated to the expansion of a global registry of DIAN members.

DIAN researchers expect the first biomarker studies to be completed within 12 to 18 months of when they begin conducting trials. According to DIAN researchers, the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency have already expressed support for the prevention trials.

“We hypothesize that this process begins decades before symptom onset and thus represents a preclinical stage of the illness, which could be ideal for evaluating therapies that may act to prevent dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. John C. Morris, principal investigator and program director of DIAN, said.

DIAN is the largest global network researching dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease. It was founded in 2008 with a multiple-year research grant from the National Institute on Aging. Approximately 40 faculty and staff members and more than 50 research volunteers are involved in DIAN studies at Washington University. Partners include Columbia University, the University of Melbourne and University College London.

Other institutions on the DIAN Steering Committee include the FDA, the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative and the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study.

Past DIAN clinical studies have allowed greater insight into the detection of signs of the onset of dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s disease, a rare hereditary genetic mutation that makes up less than 1 percent of all cases.

Individuals with this mutation typically begin experiencing symptoms in middle age, but DIAN researchers revealed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2011 that measurable changes in brain chemistry may be detected as early as 20 years before initial onsets of memory and thinking impairments.

Such findings contribute significantly to the early prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.