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Cherry-picking a small group here and a dementia risk factor there won't reflect the way that dementia affects people from every walk of life, writes CEO & Founder of Savonix, Mylea Charvat.
Each year, government agencies and private donors spend billions of dollars to fund research into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. But for all that effort, no one has done a large study to examine the complex fabric of factors that affect brain health across diverse groups of people.
Due to a fundamental lack of understanding of the underlying causes of dementia, this has severely impacted pharma and biotech companies to successfully develop new innovative therapeutics to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Up until today, when Chinese pharmaceutical company named Green Valley, received approval in China for its seaweed-based drug, oligomannate, to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease-it has been a graveyard of failures. Biogen recently resurrected its Phase 3 Alzheimer’s candidate, and we are still waiting to see whether aducanumab will ultimately receive FDA approval, based on a new analysis of a largest dataset from late-stage trials.
Dementia is any disease that impairs a person’s brain function and changes memory or thinking skills. The most common cause of age-related dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Right now, 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s dementia, and another person develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds.
Although there have been hundreds of studies focused on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, most of this research has examined small groups of similar people. But this narrow approach-cherry-picking a small group here and a dementia risk factor there-doesn’t reflect the way that dementia affects people from every walk of life. When we focus on one type of person or one potential risk factor at a time, we fail to capture the way a person’s genes, choices, and experiences all interact to affect their brain health.
Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) recently announced the ASSIST Study1, a three-year study of brain health and related factors, where they used our digital cognitive assessment. Where most studies related to Alzheimer’s and dementia focus on small populations of a few thousand, the ASSIST Study will use the Savonix mobile platform to gather data from hundreds of thousands of diverse participants.
“Much of the science in the area of dementia focuses on small groups,” says BUSPH Dean Sandro Galea, “but the ASSIST Study is looking at the whole population, and frankly, that’s where the burden of disease is. Genetics matters when studying brain health just as much as whether I smoke or drink matters, just as much as where I live and the food I eat matter,” notes Galea. “All of these pieces matter, and that’s what a population health study like the ASSIST Study does.”
Dementia research has a diversity problem, too. Right now, most of our knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia comes from studies where most, if not all, the participants identify as non-Hispanic white. Public health experts agree we need studies that represent the diverse U.S. population before we can better understand, diagnose, and treat dementia.
Researchers have never attempted a brain health study as big as the ASSIST Study before. The goal for the three-year study is to gather data from at least 400,000 individuals, with an emphasis on diversity. By examining a larger and more diverse population than any study before it, the ASSIST Study will identify how a wide range of factors influence our risk of developing dementia.
The information collected in the ASSIST Study will hopefully help the life sciences industry develop new therapies and drugs that target memory loss and problems with thinking. The results from the study may even help pharmaceutical companies finally find the elusive cure for Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Mylea Charvat is the CEO & Founder of Savonix.