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Why you should join an Alzheimer’s clinical trial

dementia alzheimer doctor patient
dementia alzheimer doctor patient

Dr Carol Routledge

Alzheimer’s Research UK Director of Research

The UK is playing a leading role in global efforts to tackle dementia. By taking part in a clinical trial you could help researchers find a new treatment.

“I strongly believe that clinical trials will help to deliver drugs that will transform the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s disease soon,” says Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

“The ultimate aim is to discover a cure, but even a drug that delays the progression of the disease by several years would significantly reduce the numbers of people living with Alzheimer’s.”

We need healthy volunteers, alongside those already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

In order to hasten that discovery, more people are needed to take part in clinical trials. This is important, Routledge explains, because scientists are researching new drugs and need trial volunteers, including healthy people as well as those already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or any of the other diseases that underlie dementia.

What do clinical trials look for?

“The type of neurodegeneration that characterises Alzheimer’s involves the misprocessing of two proteins – amyloid and tau – which trigger damage to nerve cells in the brain,” says Routledge. “Scientists can measure the levels of these misfolded proteins and are working to understand how to develop treatments to prevent the damage associated with them.”

Clinical trials are underway to evaluate drugs that could intervene in this process, as well as a multitude of other dementia studies looking for willing volunteers.

Volunteers with early-stage dementia

Researchers are keen to recruit volunteers who are in the early stages of dementia. “In trials with people in the later stages of dementia, drugs under investigation have not so far shown the benefits that we’d hope for, but that may be because the damage has already been done,” says Routledge. “It’s becoming ever more important to trial drugs in people in the earlier stages of diseases like Alzheimer’s, but to do that we must be able to diagnose people earlier – and this is also an important area of research.”

What are the benefits of taking part in a trial?

“Most people join to support research and help others,” says Routledge. “All trials need healthy control groups as well as people with a diagnosis. People who participate in clinical trials are playing a crucial role in supporting drug development and helping us to understand more about the diseases underlying dementia.

All trials, even if they fail, teach us more about the progress of the disease behind dementia, and the effects of the drugs being evaluated. No trial is wasted.”

All trials need healthy control groups as well as people with a diagnosis.

She reassures those concerned about taking part: “Trial volunteers are screened and briefed about the trial protocols and what will happen before, during and after the trial. This is important for participants providing informed consent. Research teams will always answer participants’ questions, and while it’s a good opportunity to learn about research, getting involved in studies is no substitute for visiting a doctor if you’re worried about your memory.”

Trials are not a subsitute for treatment

Anyone showing symptoms of dementia should consult their GP. “There are a number of things that can affect memory and learning, don’t be afraid to talk to the doctor, just because there is no cure for dementia yet,” says Routledge. “For people diagnosed with dementia, there are already a number of drugs that can help with symptoms in some people.”

People already diagnosed with dementia or early memory problems called mild cognitive impairment may be offered research opportunities through their doctor. But anyone, with or without dementia, can register their interest in taking part in research by signing up online at www.joindementiaresearch.nihr.ac.uk or calling Alzheimer’s Research UK on 0300 111 5 111.

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