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Tampa seniors needed for Alzheimer’s study

Researchers at the University of South Florida are participating in a national study to prevent Alzheimer’s before it hits.

Tampa residents 55 and older are needed as volunteers for a research study that aims to delay or prevent symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The AHEAD Study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and Japanese drug manufacturer Eisai, is the first Alzheimer’s trial to enroll participants as young as 55 who are at risk of developing symptoms of the disease, said Dr. Reisa Sperling, co-principal investigator for the study. The name of the study is not an acronym, but is intended to indicate the need to think ahead when treating Alzheimer’s. Researchers plan to treat people with individualized doses of antibodies based on the amount of amyloid proteins present in their brain when they begin the study.

“Right now, it’s estimated that we are somewhere between 5 and 6 million people in this country who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and we really think, unfortunately, that’s the tip of the iceberg,” Sperling said.

Participants will receive intravenous doses of the antibodies every month and be monitored for four years. The trials will take place at 100 sites worldwide, with 10 or 11 sites in Florida, Sperling said. Participants may be as old as 80.

“We think by intervening decades before, we can really bend the curve,” she said. "And hopefully, instead of dying in nursing homes, they can die out ballroom dancing, living independently, because that’s what we all want.”

Tampa is a good location from which to recruit volunteers because of the number of people with Alzheimer’s in the state, Sperling said. In Florida, 580,000 people have the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Tampa study began screening subjects last month and has scheduled the first infusions for next week, said Dr. Amanda Smith, director of clinical research for the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute. Smith’s testing site hopes to recruit 20 participants, which may require them to screen up to 250 individuals.

In addition, Smith said, it is crucial that the study recruits a diverse population.

“A lot of times, people of color and minorities are disproportionately affected by some of these diseases," Smith said. "And it is so important that people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds participate in research, because we need to know that these treatments work in everyone.”

For information on joining the study, visit AHEADstudy.org.

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