IDEAS Study May Unlock Memory Mysteries

Karen McNew McGuire's picture
By Karen McNew McGuire on February 13, 2017

The Alzheimer's Association is partnering with the American College of Radiology to enroll about 20,000 patients, ages 65 and older, into the IDEAS Study over two years. Carilion Clinic is one of 200 research sites throughout the United States.

Richard Kidd, 85, is one of the patients participating in the IDEAS Study, which may allow physicians to provide targeted treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Joyce, Richard’s wife of 60 years, hopes the study can help find answers for people like her husband.

“Every now and then you are not like you used to be," she said. "Why?"  

"No, I’m not," Richard answered. "I don’t have an answer for the why, and whatever they find out about me might help somebody else.”

Helping others has always been a part of Richard’s life. As a marine he fought in the Korean War. He hopes to learn more about what the future might hold. Richard is prepped for the same PET Scan all study participants go through. Doctors are looking for amyloid plaque build-up in the brain.

“Amyloid PET actually labels and tracks one of the proteins we think is intrinsic to the disease process with Alzheimer’s disease,” explained Joseph Ferrara, M.D., a Carilion Clinic neurologist and an assistant professor of Internal Medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

A team of providers at Carilion Clinic have been instrumental in bringing the IDEAS study to Roanoke, and they work closely with Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine students. The partnership allows students to identify ways to diagnose complicated conditions related to the brain’s function and aging.

"There is an abnormality that occurs in people with Alzheimer’s disease," said Aubrey Knight, M.D., a geriatric specialist at Carilion Clinic's Center for Healthy Aging and an associate dean for Student Affairs at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. "The tracer that is used in these PET scans highlights that abnormality. So, the PET scans will tell us that information.” 

Some of the scans are definitive, but some aren't. 

“If you have a negative scan, there is almost no chance that you will have Alzheimer’s," said Jackson Kiser, M.D., a Carilion Clinic radiologist and assistant professor of Radiology at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. "If you have a positive scan, it means you could have Alzheimer’s disease. But, as we get older we all deposit a little bit of this protein in our brains. So, it gets less specific as you get older." 

The part about getting older, explains why Richard’s scan is somewhat inconclusive.  

It is great to be on the cutting edge of research and the technology that is out there and especially going forward with the upcoming treatments that may be coming available," explained Christopher Wood, D.O., of Carilion's Center for Health Aging and assistant professor of Internal Medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. "Having this tool already in place will allow us to be closer to that next step.” 

"One of the unique aspects of the IDEAS trial is that it incorporates the physicians as subjects as well as the patients," noted Evelyn Garcia, M.D., Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine chair, Radiology. "So, we are not just looking at the diagnosis of the condition; we are looking at the way clinicians interact with patients and how they select therapy."

The IDEAS Study is just one more step in a direction for more targeted dementia care for all patients. To connect with the IDEAS study in Roanoke, call Carilion Clinic Center for Healthy Aging at 540-981-7653 or Dr. Ferrara's office, Carilion Clinic Neurology, at 540-224-5170.