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Test can detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease

Dr. Horacio Capote and his staff in the neuropsychiatry division at Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst see many patients with mood disorders that can be hard to treat; mostly depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

But because the division is focused on diseases of the brain, Capote and his staff also spend much of their time treating patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors and other conditions that can damage brain function.

The staff’s role spills far beyond treatment, as well, into research.

Capote, medical director of his Dent division, is a member of the National Steering Committee for the National Institutes of Health’s Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. He and his staff are part of an exciting international research project open to those in Western New York who fear they may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

“What we’ve learned is that it’s a progressively degenerative disease and the earlier we get on board, the better,” he said. “We have an Alzheimer’s prevention trial, called the A4 Study. We do a PET scan, looking for amyloid in the brain – the plaques that seem to help the neurons degenerate. If we find the plaques, the person is eligible for treatment. This is all research. It’s not in the general public yet. Then, there’s an antibody that looks to take that amyloid out of the brain.

“For the prospective subject, it’s a win-win. If you screen in, you can get the antibody. If you screen out, you’re happy as hell because there’s no amyloid in your brain.”

Those interested in participating in the research study can call Dent at 250-2038.

The institute was established by the Dent Family Foundation, led by Harry M. Dent Jr., in 1963, the year after his father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The private academic institute has become an international leader in brain-related disease treatment and research. Among advancements, it helped establish the dosing guidelines worldwide for the Parkinson’s drug levodopa.

Dent is among 50 research institutions worldwide participating in the A4 Alzheimer’s study.

“We’ve got a lot of trials going on here,” Capote said, “so that phone number is great for any neuroscience research from Parkinson’s to movement disorders to depression.”

The A4 Study holds particular meaning for Capote, a Cuban American whose maternal grandparents each suffered with Alzheimer’s.

“Latinos in general have about 1½ the rate of diabetes as the general public, which makes us 1½ times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, because a lot of what happens with Alzheimer’s is wear and tear on the brain, and diabetes is a major risk factor,” Capote said. “With African-Americans, the rate is twice as much.”

The study started two years ago and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Research so far suggests that many of those taking the antibody find their Alzheimer’s disease has not progressed, Capote said.

That’s why early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is key.

“If you have a mild dementia and it stays mild,” the doctor said, “that’s not bad.”

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