Topekans join search for answers to Alzheimer's disease

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Married 57 years, Phyllis Perry and her husband Ken are a team.

While that means they can finish each other's sentences, lately, for Phyllis, it's more than that.

"I noticed having problems with names and titles of things," she said.

A memory screening found Phyllis showing early signs of Alzheimer's disease. More than five million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease, slowly robbing them of their memory and thinking skills.

Right now, there's not way to stop it.

That prognosis is what led Perry, a retired chemistry teacher and CASA volunteer, to a new realm of service -- signing on to a trial through Cotton O'Neil Clinical Research.

Dr. Scott Teeter said the trials are vital.

"The prevalence of this in our communities and in our families is growing," he said. "We basically have only medicines that help palliate the symptoms a little bit, but nothing that slows the underlying damage or reverses it or actually works on what's the underlying cause."

Dr. Teeter says Cotton O'Neil is enrolling for four Alzheimer's-related trials right now.

Many patients, like Phyllis, will undergo a PET scan to see how much of a protein called amyloid is in their brain.

"(Amyloid) is a sticky, gummy protein that's there in our brain fluid, probably as a byproduct of metabolism, which we know is removed by the body during sleep," Dr. Teeter explained. "In patients who develop Alzheimer's disease, it remains there in abnormally large amounts and then triggers other events."

Those other events are thought to cause the irreversible cell damage that is Alzheimer's. The trials are testing medications to prevent the amyloid buildup or even remove it. Follow-up PET scans will show if there's more, less or the same amount of amyloid.

Even if a drug does have an impact, Dr. Teeter says, there are still many unanswered questions.

"We don't know for sure whether it's the actual causative factor or just a byproduct of something that's going wrong; we don't know whether complete removal of the amyloid will fix the problem or prevent if from getting worse; we don't know if it's a combination of factors," he said.

Still, Dr. Teeter says any step toward answers is progress.

"The ultimate would be able to improve patients' memory function and, more realistically, maybe prevent the progression and deterioration," he said.

The hope of improvement is why Phyllis is taking part - if not for herself, for others.

"I hope that my memory improves rather than getting worse, and I hope that the drug helps somebody with Alzheimer's," she said.

Most of the trials are looking for people over the age of 50. To learn how to find out if you qualify, call Cotton O'Neil Clinical Research at 785-368-0744.