Clinical trials are an important part of the research process - no matter what the disease or condition. And that includes Alzheimer's disease.
Professor David Barton says clinical trials play a vital role in finding an effective treatment that may slow the progression of the disease.
The director of Victoria's South Eastern Private Hospital's mental health program, who works as an older persons psychiatrist at Caulfield Hospital Alfred Health, encourages people living with dementia and their families to consider joining a clinical trial as they are a vital part of the research process.
Professor Barton said the trials provide researchers with valuable data about the safety and effectiveness of potential Alzheimer's disease treatments that are in development.
"Currently available treatments provide limited benefit, slowing the illness for approximately three to nine months," he said.
"There are two types of clinical trial approaches for Alzheimer's disease or dementia: treatments aimed at reducing symptoms and treatments aimed at slowing or stopping the disease altogether.
"For trials designed to slow the disease progression, the focus is often on medications that target underlying causes of the disease."
Professor Barton said these medications may be designed to reduce the amount of amyloid beta, a protein that accumulates in the brains of people with this disease, and/or also to reduce inflammation in the brain. Medications of this type may also help protect nerve cells from damage caused by the disease.
"Joining a clinical trial for Alzheimer's disease can be a pivotal decision for persons living with the disease, families and caregivers alike, offering numerous benefits that extend beyond personal health outcomes," he said.
Dr Barton gives the following reasons for considering participating in a clinical trial:
Access to cutting-edge treatments
Clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease serve as a platform for testing new and innovative treatments which have shown promise in earlier studies. Patients gain access to interventions that are not available through standard care. Experimental therapies being tested in clinical trials allow for new innovative solutions to be developed and tested.
More enhanced medical monitoring and care
Participants receive extensive medical attention and monitoring throughout the study period. Clinical trials are closely monitored by medical professionals who provide regular check-ups and access to consistent medical care and monitoring. This ensures any potential side effects, adverse reactions, or changes in the disease's progression are caught.
Contributing to scientific knowledge
Participating in an Alzheimer's clinical trial is an opportunity to contribute to the scientific understanding of the disease and advancing medical knowledge and treatment options for future generations such as children, grandchildren and others.
"Clinical trials collect invaluable data on drug efficacy, safety and potential side effects," Professor Barton said. "This information aids researchers and clinicians in refining treatment strategies and developing more targeted therapies."
However, he cautions that while participants may experience positive outcomes, as the medications are not proven to be effective there may be no benefit or even adverse events.
"This is why you will be regularly monitored by the research team throughout the study," he said.
"Before you enrol in the study all known side effects of the medication you will be taking will be discussed with you and you will be given this information in the form of a plain language statement to take home to review and discuss with your doctor and family.
"You can withdraw from a trial at any time."
Professor Barton said clinical trials also give participants a deeper understanding of their condition, potential treatment options and the risks and benefits associated with different types of trials.
Professor Barton said speaking to your doctor is always a good first step.
"Finding a treatment that slows the progression of, and hopefully finds a cure for, Alzheimer's disease is crucial as it affects millions of people worldwide," Professor Barton said.
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