As part of an international study, Canadian researchers are testing the use of antibody drugs to prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s disease in people who are genetically predisposed to develop it at an early age.

The Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Trials Unit, or DIAN-TU, involves several Canadian clinical sites that are testing two experimental drugs, called solanezumab and gantenerumab.

Both drugs aim to lower levels of a substance that forms sticky plaque build-up in the brain, which scientists suspect may be the first step in developing Alzheimer’s.

Early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease is genetically inherited. Those who have a parent with a genetic mutation have a 50 per cent chance of carrying the gene and will begin to experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s as early as in their 30s and 40s.

Although familial Alzheimer’s disease makes up less than one per cent of all cases, the predictable age of onset makes it possible to test drugs years before symptoms begin, scientists say.  

“We want to stop this disease in its tracks, before symptoms begin to emerge, or when in the very early stages,” Dr. Mario Masellis, neurologist and lead investigator of the trial at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said in a news release.  

“The Alzheimer’s Association feels confident that this study will help to accelerate the scientific community’s ability to determine whether an early intervention can delay or stop Alzheimer’s disease,” said Maria Carrillo, chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association.

The DIAN-TU study is the first global clinical trial to enrol dominantly inherited Alzheimer’s patients. It’s currently operating at 24 sites in seven countries.

More information about the study is available here or by calling 1-844-DIAN-EXR (844-342-6397).