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Propelling Alzheimer’s Research

Harvard Medical School physician-scientist to co-lead national research effort 

Image: iStock/Selvanegra

Reisa Sperling, a renowned Alzheimer’s disease expert and physician-scientist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will co-lead the soon-to-be-launched Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials Consortium (ACTC), a $70-million research initiative that will create a network of 35 Alzheimer’s disease trial sites across the country.

The National Institutes of Health is expected to award up to $70 million over five years for the consortium to identify new ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s and accelerate clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Sperling, who is the director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s, will co-lead the effort with colleagues at the Mayo Clinic and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

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“We must overhaul our current recruitment strategies for clinical trials, particularly to improve the diversity of our study participants and to reach people who do not yet have symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease for inclusion in future prevention trials,” said Sperling, a professor of neurology at HMS who serves as the principal investigator of the ACTC at both Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“The new ACTC presents a terrific opportunity to innovate in recruitment, cognitive assessments and neuroimaging for the next generation of Alzheimer’s trials,” she said. 

Reisa Sperling shares her family's personal connection with Alzheimer's disease and describes ongoing research into early diagnosis and intervention in this episode of the Harvard Medical Labcast, recorded Oct. 2015.

The ACTC will be jointly led by research teams across the country, including a team from Brigham and Women’s and Mass General.

Other leaders include Paul Stephen Aisen from the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at USC and Ronald C. Petersen from the Mayo Clinic, with scientific input from the National Institute on Aging—the federal leader in Alzheimer’s research.

The consortium’s diverse team and improved infrastructure will alleviate some of the challenges involved in conducting clinical trials, including the expense of recruitment and site activation.

Several other leading researchers at Brigham and Women’s, including Dennis Selkoe, Gad Marshall, Dominic Walsh and Dorene Rentz, will work on ACTC efforts to implement more sensitive biomarkers and cognitive tests in early intervention trials.

The consortium will offer shared support services, enabling researchers to design better clinical trials, manage and analyze large amounts of data and recruit participants from diverse backgrounds.

The group will also share data, software, instruments and biologic samples such as blood, tissue and cerebrospinal fluid.

The ACTC will also help researchers engage in new collaborations to test promising therapies and prevention strategies. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s and their colleagues are leading efforts to find ways to intervene as early as possible, before the first signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear, when some treatments are expected to be most effective.

But prevention trials, such as the A4 Study led by Sperling and her collaborators, can require screening thousands of volunteers to identify eligible participants, which takes time and resources. The ACTC aims to offer the infrastructure, shared resources and expertise to help surmount these hurdles.

Adapted from a Brigham and Women’s news release.