Commentary: UC Irvine needs volunteers for clinical trials on Alzheimer’s disease


Alzheimer’s disease is the most significant health challenge faced by our nation today, and California is home to more people with Alzheimer’s disease than any other state. California is also poised to make critical breakthroughs in solving the Alzheimer’s crisis.

It can’t happen soon enough. More than 600,000 Californians are living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Azheimer’s Assn., and 1.1 million Californians are caregivers. The disease costs the state more than $3 billion annually in Medi-Cal dollars and it costs families some $22 billion in out-of-pocket costs.

So why is California the place where advances can and will be made? Because we are also home to an extraordinary concentration of academic research organizations and biotech companies specialized in the neurosciences. We have more Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers mandated by Congress than any other state. We have led numerous initiatives in brain imaging, genetics and other sciences related to Alzheimer’s. And our academic medical centers provide high-quality care to the majority of California’s Alzheimer’s patients.


Here in Orange County, we are home to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, the UC Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND). And we are making progress. There will be one essential key to needed advances, however.


We need more people to participate in research, especially clinical trials of promising treatments. Clinical trial participants in Alzheimer’s research, much like the brave volunteers in past trials in AIDS and cancer research who have helped dramatically lessen mortality rates in those diseases, will almost certainly become the group that helps solve the Alzheimer’s crisis. And the first person to receive the next approved therapy for Alzheimer’s, or the first effective prevention, will do so in a clinical trial.

At UCI MIND, we are administering two Alzheimer’s clinical trials with our colleagues at the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study at UC San Diego (ADCS).

Both studies are grounded in science that was performed at UCI and focus on recent learnings that as much of half of the risk for Alzheimer’s disease comes from lifestyle choices — like exercise and diet.

The EXERT Study tests whether exercise can help people with mild memory loss prevent or delay the path to Alzheimer’s disease. There is growing evidence that exercise has numerous health-restoring effects in the brain, and studies suggest that exercise can improve cognitive performance in people with memory problems.

EXERT is designed for people age 65-89 who are experiencing mild memory loss but don’t currently exercise. With more data from studies like the EXERT trial, doctors could someday write prescriptions for exercise that actually get reimbursed like drugs.

The NEAT study, meanwhile, uses a different tactic. It’s funded by UC Cures, a consortium of five UC health campuses sharing data and resources to improve health through ambitious research and clinical initiatives.

NEAT tests whether the vitamin B3 component, nicotinamide, at high daily doses can reverse changes in the tau protein of the brain tangles found in Alzheimer’s disease. NEAT is only for people age 50 or older who have a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment or mild Alzheimer’s disease.

You might be saying to yourself: Exercise and vitamins to fight Alzheimer’s? Sounds pretty California. It is, if “pretty California” means based on decades of rigorous research performed in state-of-the-art California-based research laboratories.

Alzheimer’s researchers are trying everything to find prevention and cure, including even more complex scientific studies than these. And all of these studies, including those that enroll people with Alzheimer’s, mild memory problems, or even people with perfectly normal memories, need more volunteers in order to be successful.

You could be the first person to have Alzheimer’s prevented or treated successfully.

To learn more about the EXERT or NEAT studies, please call Beatriz Yanez at (949) 824-0008 or send an email to:

Joshua Grill is associate professor in the UC Irvine Department of Psychology and Human Behavior; and Director of UCI Mind.