Originally created 11/16/02

Families assist MCG Alzheimer's study



Jinny Gallahar hardly seemed to notice the blood being drawn out of her left arm. It is a small thing, she said, to perhaps provide a clue as to why her 72-year-old father is developing memory problems that could be Alzheimer's disease.

Within the glass tube of blood might also lie a glimpse of her road ahead.

"I'd like to know what my future and what my child's future and her children's future will be," said the 48-year-old Mrs. Gallahar. "(But) I'm not doing this for my benefit. It's for everyone's."

The Alzheimer's Research Center at the Medical College of Georgia recently began enrolling patients and their family members and caregivers in a multidisciplinary research study that will cover all aspects of the disease, center director Jerry Buccafusco said.

The MCG Memory Assessment Program will include a genetic databank where researchers can mine patient samples for clues about the disease's molecular origins, Dr. Buccafusco said. His lab is focusing on an apparent autoimmune response to part of the beta amyloid protein often blamed for forming plaques and tangles in the brain that kill neurons and are a hallmark of the disease.

"We are studying blood samples from these patients - looking for antibodies that the patients make themselves - as a diagnostic approach and also a potential therapeutic approach along the lines of an Alzheimer's vaccine," Dr. Buccafusco said. "We need patients to do those kinds of studies, and that's what this whole program is about."

As the pool of patients builds up, there might also be drug studies, Dr. Buccafusco said.

"As we begin to recruit a sufficient number of patients into the program, we will then be able to provide patients and their families with the opportunity to get involved in various clinical studies that may allow them to have access to the most modern therapeutic entities, including some that are being developed here at Medical College of Georgia," Dr. Buccafusco said.

The researchers will also look at whether routine lab work can provide insights into the disease and the development of symptoms, co-investigator Elizabeth Kenimer Leibach said.

"There may be an increased risk of Alzheimer's in individuals with impaired glucose and lipid metabolism," Dr. Kenimer Leibach said. "That's where we would be going with this - early prediction so that therapy could be begun, which may lead to better outcomes, knowing that early intervention usually is what will slow the (disease) best."

Families of Alzheimer's patients often want to do something, co-investigator Tom Jackson said.

"The motivation for (participating in) this study is strictly altruistic," he said. "We have a lot of folks who would love to do something to help, if not now, then in the future."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.

For more information on the MCG Memory Assessment Program, call the MCG Alzheimer's Research Center at (706) 721-6355.