Alzheimer's study looks at genetic risk factor

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Pete Mitchell is hoping a cheek swab can help him get ahead of a disease that has shadowed his family.

"It really makes you feel like you're doing something on something where your hands are so tied, that you just don't know what else to do," Mitchell says.

The 62-year old Marietta special effects producer is part of a Alzheimer's prevention study known as the Generation Program.

"This was something very close to my heart close to my heart," Mitchell says.  "My father had Alzheimer's and died in 1999. Alzheimer's is a tough disease."

When Mitchell's father was diagnosed, there were few treatment options.  

Still, because of his family history, Mitchell was the perfect fit for this study being headed up locally by NeuroStudies' neurologist and clinical researcher Dr. Marshall Nash. 

Mitchell is between 60 and 75 and has no history of memory problems, but DNA swab could reveal a hidden risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

"The cheek swab itself looks for a gene that is called APOE4," says Dr. Nash.

APOE4 is considered a "risk-factor gene" because it increases a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's, in particular the late-onset type of the disease.

"What we're trying to find out who has the gene," Pete Mitchell says. "Where it was my father, I thought I had a pretty good chance of having the gene."

Mitchell doesn't yet know if he carries at the gene. 

If he does, Dr. Nash and his team will use blood work and other tests to rule out other causes of memory impairment.  

Then, Mitchell will undergo a PET scan of his brain to see if he has abnormal levels of amyloid, a protein that plays a part in Alzheimer's disease.

"Everyone over age 50 has a little bit of this amyloid," Dr. Nash says.  "So, we're really looking for people who have been storing it in excess, and that's what actually happening in your brain, is this amyloid is accumulating, and it's blocking your ability to retrieve memories."

Volunteers with abnormal PET scans will be  given an  either investigation drug, known as an amyloid-blocker, or a placebo, or inactive version of the drug.

"Right now the drugs that slow down the disease by taking out the amyloid plaque, slow it down by 30 to 50%," Dr. Nash says.  "But patients are still getting worse. So the milder the patients is, or if we treat someone who is normal to start with, it would stop them from ever developing dementia, and that's what the goal is."

Pete Mitchell says he's at peace with whatever the Generation Program study reveals. 

To him, this is his way of taking back control.

It's a matter of being able to do something about Alzheimer's," Mitchell says.  "This is way we can do it with people here, and people now, and make a difference."

The Generation Program will run between 5 and 8 years, and volunteers will need to come in for regular evaluations to measure the safety and effectiveness of the investigational treatment.

To learn more about the Generation Program, visit, or contact NeuroStudies at (404) 475-0552.