UCSD Researcher Makes Progress on Alzheimer’s Drug

The UCSD School of Medicine’s department of neurosciences is one of the centers participating in the clinical trials with Gantenerumab, led by the Scarlet Road study — a global clinical study of the drug.

Gantenerumab is used with patients who have not yet hit the dementia stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, these patients have prodromal Alzheimer’s disease — a subgroup of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI.

Patients with prodromal Alzheimer’s disease have trouble with memory and have specific biomarkers in their brain, which, according to the Scarlet Road study, indicate disease processes or response to therapy.

“It is hoped that by treating early, we can prevent them from reaching the dementia stage of the disease,” UCSD assistant professor of neurosciences Dr. Michael Rafii said.

Gantenerumab binds and then removes beta-amyloid from the brain. “The clinical study is evaluating a monoclonal antibody that binds to beta-amyloid. The buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain is thought to be the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease,” Rafii said.

There are 100 sites across the 15 countries that are currently conducting this study. Patients participate in the study for approximately two years.

At UCSD, researchers have helped this study through their research with volumetric MRI, a type of MRI that measures memory centers of the brain and compares them to the expected size. Dr. Anders Dale and Dr. Jim Brewer, both professors researching within UCSD’s department of neurosciences, worked with Dr. Rafii on the research. In the study, the volumetric MRI allowed the researchers to measure regions of the brain, which helps identify patients with Alzheimer’s disease before they begin to experience dementia.

“[The volumetric MRI] allows for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, before the dementia stage occurs,” Rafii said. “The use of immunotherapy represents an exciting way of treating Alzheimer’s disease. Volumetric MRI is now becoming a tool regularly used in the evaluation of dementia.”

Rafii, Dale, Brewer and their team of researchers at UCSD have been studying Alzheimer’s disease for the last seven years, having published their work on volumetric MRI in 2009.

“We continue to recruit subjects for the study,” Rafii said. “We continue to work closely with Drs. Brewer and Dale on developing new techniques to better understand Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages.”