A $100 million drug trial will start in 2013 in Colombia’s central northwestern Antioquia department where more people suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s in the community than anywhere else in the world.
The isolated villages in the Yarumal municipality of Antioquia harbor a secluded population of people suffering from a rare strain of Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that gets worse over time, as a result of a genetic mutation that has run in the community’s blood lines for centuries. The area that was once known for its extensive violence, the consequence of former paramilitary and guerrilla presence, is now being noticed for the endemic existence of Alzheimer’s and bringing millions of dollars of research with it, scheduled to start early next year.
The rare form of Alzheimer’s occurring within the Antioquia department allegedly stems from a specific genetic disorder being called the “paisa variation,” referring to the term “paisa” or locals from Antioquia, according to an article published in UK newspaper, The Telegraph.
This form of the disease is extremely early onset, first occurring in patients around 45 years old rather than the more typical form which emerges much later on in the elderly. The “paisa variation” has been “recognized so far in 25 families in the area, all of whom seem to have been descended from a single Basque who had settled in a village called Angostura at the end of the 18th century.”
The descendants of the Alzheimer gene carrier now constitutes about 5,000 paisas and “the world’s largest research pool of potential Alzheimer’s sufferers. About half of these people could end up developing the disease,” said Doctor Francis Lopera, a doctor who has been working with Alzheimer’s patients in the region for years and will now help implement the new drug study.
The $100 million drug trial is of a new drug called Crenezumab, led by the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute over a five year period, although researchers claim that they will most likely be able to see results in two, reported New York media source, Newsday. The trial will administer Crenezumab to people with the specific gene mutation who do not yet show signs of Alzheimer’s.
The New York Times reported the alarmingly high rate of dementia in the Colombian community in 2010, as well as the aspiration of scientists to test Alzheimer’s prevention drugs in the community. Persuading pharmaceutical companies to endorse the project however, took months to accomplish.
“There are scientific and ethical issues involved with giving drugs to people who are healthy and people who live in a developing country, some of whom have little education, paltry incomes and longstanding superstitions about the disease they call La Bobera-the foolishness,” reported the New York Times.
However, despite these issues, the trial will be carried out in Yarumal and provide the medical community with:
- A population large enough to yield accurate results
- A population in which the genetic mutation is easily identified- who has the disease and when it will occur
- The drug appears to have no negative side effects
The purpose of Crenezumab is to reduce the build up of amyloid plaques, a misfolded protein that builds up in the brain and theoretically causes Alzheimer’s.
The afflicted Antioquian community dealing with the disease has blamed “La Bobera,” their term for Alzheimer’s, on what the Western world would consider superstitions, on priests cursing disloyal parishioners or touching the bark of a rare tree, reported The Telegraph. However, despite the archaic sound of these theories, a cure for Alzheimer’s, as well as the cause of conventional Alzheimer’s, remains unknown to the modern medical community. Perhaps Yarumal will provide the answers.