Newswise — LOS ANGELES – Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) are tackling the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States — Alzheimer’s disease — with a new study that intervenes decades before the disease develops. The school is joining approximately 90 institutions in North America, Europe and Australia in the Generation Study, which is testing a vaccine and oral medication to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s in older adults at increased risk for developing the disease. More than 70 USC researchers across a range of disciplines are dedicated to the prevention, treatment and potential cure of Alzheimer’s.

By focusing on prevention, the study is taking a different approach to halting a disease that affects 47 million people worldwide.

“One of the challenges in developing new medications for Alzheimer’s is that researchers tend to test medications on people with more advanced Alzheimer’s, and the medications are simply not proving to be effective,” says the study’s lead investigator at the Keck School, Lon Schneider, MD, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences and professor of neurology. “By intervening 10 to 12 years before Alzheimer’s manifests, we may be able to stop it before it begins or delay the symptoms.”

Adults 60 to 75 years of age with normal cognition who are interested in participating must undergo genetic testing for the apolipoprotein e4 (APOE4) gene, which is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

About half of people with Alzheimer’s disease carry the APOE4 gene, which can be inherited from either parent, Schneider says. About 25 percent of the population carries one copy of the APOE4 gene, and about two to three percent of the population carries two copies, having received one from each parent. To qualify for the study, participants must have two copies of the gene.

Qualifying participants may be randomized to either a vaccine, oral medication, placebo vaccine or placebo oral medication. Both the vaccine and oral medication target amyloid beta — the main component in amyloid plaques in the brain and a culprit in Alzheimer’s — in two different ways: The vaccine helps the body develop antibodies against amyloid beta, while the oral medication blocks an enzyme that creates amyloid beta. Participants may receive the study medications for five to eight years.

“If we are able to show that the vaccine or oral medication is effective at delaying Alzheimer’s among people at higher risk, then this would strongly imply that we are on the right track for developing treatments,” Schneider says. “If we can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years, for example, the incidence of the illness would drop by half. It would also give individuals five more years without symptoms of the illness.”

Should the vaccine or oral medication prove to be effective in people with two copies of the APOE4 gene, then it would likely also be effective for other people at risk for Alzheimer’s, according to Schneider.

“Our clinician-scientists have been actively involved in clinical drug development for Alzheimer’s disease for more than 30 years,” says Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, dean of the Keck School. “This study is a reflection of our continued efforts to conquer one of the greatest health challenges of our time.”

For information about how to participate in the study, contact Nadine Diaz at (323) 442-7600 or [email protected].

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About the Keck School of Medicine of USC

Founded in 1885, the Keck School of Medicine of USC is among the nation’s leaders in innovative patient care, scientific discovery, education and community service. It is part of Keck Medicine of USC, the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area. This includes Keck Medical Center of USC, composed of Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital. The two world-class, USC-owned hospitals are staffed by more than 500 physicians who are faculty at the Keck School. The school has approximately 1,650 full-time faculty members and voluntary faculty of more than 2,400 physicians. These faculty direct the education of approximately 800 medical students and 1,000 students pursuing graduate and postgraduate degrees. The school trains more than 900 resident physicians in more than 50 specialty or subspecialty programs and is the largest educator of physicians practicing in Southern California. Together, the school’s faculty and residents serve more than 1.5 million patients each year at Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital, as well as USC-affiliated hospitals, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center. Keck School faculty also conduct research and teach at several research centers and institutes, including the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at USC, USC Cardiovascular Thoracic Institute, USC Roski Eye Institute and USC Institute of Urology.

In 2017, U.S. News & World Report ranked the Keck School among the top 35 medical schools in the country.

For more information, go to keck.usc.edu.

The research referenced in this release is supported by the National Institutes of Health under award number 1UF1AG046150-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.