URI Researchers Get Funding for Groundbreaking Alzheimer’s Disease Research

Paula Grammas, Ph.D., executive director of the Ryan Institute. Photo by Nora Lewis.

The University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, gets funding approval of groundbreaking clinical trail targeting the blood vessels in Alzheimer’s Disease, to slow the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most pressing global health challenges. 5.2 million Americans are affected by the disease, with costs of care estimated to be $259 billion in 2017. While there are medications to address some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, there are currently no approved treatments that can prevent, slow, or cure the disease. Meanwhile, despite decades of research, many of the factors that are likely to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, such as inflammation, the immune system, and the brain’s vasculature, have remained largely under-explored.

“Keeping this study in Rhode Island was important to us,” said Paula Grammas, Ph.D., executive director of the Ryan Institute statement released on January 14th. “This state has a world-class and closely-linked community of researchers and clinicians, which enables us to pull together resources and make progress quickly,” he noted.

Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation Major Funder of Study  

The URI study is funded through a grant from the New York City-based Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) along with private donations. The ADDF funds drug research to treat Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. URI’s research study is salso made possible by grant funding awarded by the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., headquartered in Ingelheim am Rhein, Germany, which is providing the active drug for this study, dabigatran. URI’s Pharmaceutical Development Institute is providing the placebo comparator for this trial.

“The role of the vasculature in Alzheimer’s disease has been grossly under-recognized until relatively recently,” noted Dr. Howard Fillit, Founding Executive Director and Chief Science Officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. “As a result, strategies to develop therapeutics to address this important part of the disease have been lacking. We are pleased to work with Dr. Grammas and fund her work using a very novel approach to repurpose an existing drug to treat the vascular abnormalities in Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

According to the URI release, decades of clinical trials have brought no treatments that slow or stop Alzheimer’s disease, and only a few have been approved to treat the mental disorder’s symptoms. Most of these studies have targeted amyloid-beta, a protein which accumulates in the brains of patients. The lack of successful research trials targeting amyloid has caused some researchers, including Grammas, to study whether targeting other possible causes of the disease could be more productive in finding a treatment.

BEACON is a Phase I clinical trial that looks into the possible role of the brain’s blood vessels in Alzheimer’s disease. Grammas’s research has shown that factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke can injure blood vessels in the brain, resulting in inflammation that could cause the damage or death of brain cells that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease. The BEACON Study repurposes an existing drug, dabigatran, FDA-approved to reduce the risk of stroke and systemic embolism in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation and for the treatment and to reduce the risk of reoccurrence of deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, to suppress one part of the inflammation process associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The BEACON Study’s research findings are expected in late 2020.

BEACON Study Looking for Research Participants

“If the drug shows some effects on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, it would be the first time we’ve found evidence of a treatment that could slow the disease,” says Grammas. “But even if the study’s results are less conclusive, this is a vitally important step forward in expanding our knowledge of the multiple factors that cause this complex disease. I’m very excited to see what happens,.” he says.

If you are in good health, between 50 and 85 years old, and interested in learning more, please contact the BEACON Study information line at (401) 874-5650 or email us at beaconstudy@uri.edu.

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