$33 million grant aims to prevent Alzheimer's

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In a significant effort to discover a treatment to prevent Alzheimer's disease, the federal government on Wednesday announced a $33.2 million grant for a project that will test a drug on people considered at greatest risk for developing the most common form of the disease.

The grant -- part of the government's national Alzheimer's plan -- will help finance a large clinical trial to test a treatment on people 60-75 years old who do not have symptoms of the disease, but do have two copies of a gene known to greatly increase the risk of getting it.

It is the largest federal grant to date to test a drug specifically designed to prevent Alzheimer's in people without symptoms, said Laurie Ryan, program director for Alzheimer's disease clinical trials at the National Institute on Aging.

In announcing the grant and other smaller awards Wednesday, Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, said the government was "investing a great deal of hope" in prevention research, aiming to "intervene early in the course of Alzheimer's disease, well before the onset of symptoms."

"We know that Alzheimer's-related brain changes take place years, even decades, before symptoms appear," Dr. Hodes said in a statement. "That really may be the optimal window for drugs that delay progression or prevent the disease altogether."

The $33.2 million drug-testing project grant went to Eric M. Reiman and Pierre N. Tariot of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix. The Banner trial, called the Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative, will focus on the late-onset form of Alzheimer's, by far the disease's most common form, affecting the vast majority of the 5 million Americans estimated to have it. A total of $45 million in grants for Alzheimer's research were awarded.

Although the cause of Alzheimer's is unknown, researchers have been able to establish certain risk factors. People with the most significant known risk so far, Dr. Reiman said, possess two copies of a gene called ApoE4, having inherited it from both parents. Studies have found that more than half of the people with two copies of the gene will develop Alzheimer's, compared with about one-fourth of people with one copy and 10 percent of people with no copies.

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