Alzheimer’s prevention study needs more diverse participants in the Lowcountry

A groundbreaking study to prevent people from ever developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is being held right in Charleston
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 5:00 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2023 at 9:42 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A groundbreaking study to prevent people from ever developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is being held right in Charleston, and the team behind the trial is trying to recruit diverse participants to help those most impacted by the disease.

With dozens of locations across the U.S., the aptly named AHEAD Study aims to help people get ahead of Alzheimer’s symptoms, thus preventing memory loss, confusion and cognitive decline before these symptoms ever start.

In the Lowcountry, the AHEAD Study is held at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Eligible volunteers ages 55 and older who are at high risk of Alzheimer’s will go to the hospital in downtown Charleston for a once or twice-monthly infusion of the Alzheimer’s drug Lecanemab, as well as physical exams, memory and thinking tests, and PET and MRI scans.

“I’ve been doing Alzheimer’s studies since the early 1980′s; this is a study I dream to be able to have,” Dr. Jacobo Mintzer, a physician at Ralph H. Johnson and an Alzheimer’s researcher, says. “To talk about preventing Alzheimer’s disease was something we never thought possible and here we are.”

One important aspect of the study for researchers: recruiting diverse participants.

“We certainly don’t know the results, we don’t know the outcome, but we are very optimistic and hopeful that if we do see positive results in a study like this that we have engaged the population that would benefit from it the most,” Dr. Doris Molina-Henry, who is part of the team behind the AHEAD Study, says.

Black adults are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to white adults, she says, and Hispanic adults are about one-and-a-half times as likely to develop the disease. Black and Hispanic adults are also far less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and if they are, it typically comes in the later stages of the disease.

“With a growing population, and a growing aging population, this becomes a bigger, bigger issue,” Molina-Henry says. “So identifying mechanisms that will work for those populations just as much as the entire population of the United States is paramount.”

Carol Turner was the first Black participant in the study in the nation. Her decision to volunteer in the trial came after watching her family struggle with Alzheimer’s, she says.

“This one was so close to home; there was no reason for me not to,” Turner says. “I really wanted to get ahead of this disease. We saw our father go through it. Not only our father, but he had two brothers who also went through it. They didn’t even know each other and they were in the same facility.”

It’s crucial others follow her lead and get involved in the AHEAD study, Turner says, to make a difference in their own health and others.

“It’s very vital we get out to our community that the numbers matter,” she says. “I would get involved.”

In addition to the age requirement, to be eligible for the study, you cannot have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. You must also have amyloid plaque, a certain type of protein associated with Alzheimer’s, building in your brain. Researchers will determine if that is true for you through a blood test at the start of the trial.

If you would like more information on the study or would like to see if you’re eligible, visit the AHEAD Study’s website.