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Banner Alzheimer’s Institute looking for participants to study disease

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHOENIX — A Phoenix-area hospital specialty center is looking for volunteers to help its efforts in finding a cure for a wide-reaching disease.

Banner Alzheimer’s Institute is pushing ahead with a series of clinical trials for new treatments and medications for the dreaded disease, needing participants to take part in long-term research and drug testing.

Participants can be between 50 and 85 years old, can range from having no symptoms of Alzheimer’s, to a mild or moderate cognitive memory impairment, to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease with cognitive impairment.

“Ideally it would be beneficial to identify some kind of treatment to stop Alzheimer’s Disease,” said neurologist Bryan Spann. “There are five million Alzheimer’s patients in the United States. There’s about 10 million cognitive impairment patients; 500,000 of those will flip over into Alzheimer’s per year.”

The disease has two stages of progression: The growth and progression of Amyloid plaque buildup and Tauopathy.

“The plaque is outside of the cells. The Tauopathy is within cells and this leads to cellular damage and we actually see a closer relationship with the Tauopathy to changes in the brain than we do with the Amyloid [plaque],” Spann said.

The Tau protein binds cognition cells into tubes in the brain. When this protein breaks down and these cells break apart from each other, Tauopathy occurs.

Tauopathy is the progression of cognitive impairment. It begins after the progression of Amyloid plague runs its course in the brain.

“So they’re linked. [Our] hope is by addressing the Amyloid, we can affect the second disease process, the Tauopathy, and slow the progression of both,” Spann said. “What we’re focusing on right now is Amyloid [plaque] because there is still the major theory that the Amyloid [plaque], because of changes it induces in the brain, can induce Tauopathy to start.”

With the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute strategically located in Sun City, retired or elderly people can have direct access to participate in studies of Alzheimer’s Disease medications, infusions and testing.

Banner Alzheimer’s Institute also has a Phoenix campus where participants 50 years and older can get involved.

Testing at both locations involves evaluations and yearly screenings for cognitive function, especially tracking any cognitive impairment, memory and executive function changes. Patients do not necessarily have to be presenting any cognitive impairment to get started.

“We do have a program here, where people will donate their brain at the time of death. But they can come here on a yearly basis to be evaluated. We have cognitive testing, if there’s a change in the cognitive testing we’ll discuss with them and their primary care physicians. It’s a way to monitor themselves. If there is changes, once they donate their brain, we can see what exactly was the reason for those changes,” Spann said.

Spann added that for anyone who has concerns about their memory, they should start with their primary care doctor.

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