Health Care

Drug that might prevent Alzheimer’s to be tested at KC suburb

Dr. Jeffrey Burns at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Fairway.
Dr. Jeffrey Burns at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Fairway.

Researchers are looking to enroll 10 to 20 people in the Kansas City area in a trial for a new drug meant to delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Fairway is one of 180 sites in more than 20 countries chosen to participate in the trial, which is being run by the Phoenix-based Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis and a California-based biotechnology company called Amgen.

“This is a great study because of the prevention aspect,” said Jeff Burns, the co-director of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “The whole field is moving in that direction.”

The trial, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health, will be open to people 60 to 75 who are at high risk of Alzheimer’s because they carry a certain gene: the e4 type of the apolipoprotein E.

Burns, a neurologist, said people who have used commercial DNA testing services like 23andMe may already know if they have the gene. Those who have relatives with Alzheimer’s could also be good candidates for the study.

“People with a family history have a higher chance of having this gene,” Burns said. “That could be a signal.”

The study leaders will also be recruiting some candidates through the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry’s GeneMatch program, which is online at and offers cheek swab DNA tests.

There are pharmaceutical treatments on the market to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but nothing approved so far to prevent the illness entirely. Burns said research suggests that the disease starts changing the brain five to 15 years before symptoms like memory loss and mood swings even appear.

“If we can intervene in that window of opportunity with a drug that affects the disease process than we may have something that could stop or delay the onset of the disease,” Burns said.

The KU center’s research is studying whether things like exercise and changes in diet, as well as pharmaceutical products, can stave off Alzheimer’s symptoms and Burns said it’s frequently looking for volunteers.

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso