Wisconsin Researcher Seeks Veterans to Study Whether Fish Oil Delays Alzheimer’s Damage

Patricia Inacio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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Researchers in Wisconsin are looking for veterans with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease to determine whether fish oil can stop brain damage during the disorder’s early stages.

“We know fish oil has beneficial effects on heart health,” Dr. Cindy Carlsson, the trial’s leading investigator and a researcher at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Madison, said in a press release. “There is some evidence to suggest it may help against Alzheimer’s disease brain changes, but this is not proven yet.”

Carlsson, who’s also a geriatrics provider at Madison’s William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, said veterans are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s than the general population. Both men and women who served on active duty are more likely to suffer from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorders. They also generally have high cholesterol and are more prone to depression and other vascular-related health issues than their civilian counterparts.

Researchers have zeroed in on some of the changes that occur in people’s lives which may boost their risk for Alzheimer’s, and whether altering their lifestyle could reduce that risk.

In the Phase 2/3 BRAVE-EPA study (NCT02719327), researchers will analyze whether taking a purified fish oil supplement — known as icosapent ethyl and available under the brand name, Vascepa — improves blood flow to the brain, thereby delaying cognitive and memory decline, personality changes and other common Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Over an 18-month period, participants will randomly receive omega-3 fatty acid, or icosapent ethyl (IPE) – commonly found in cold-water fishes like salmon and tuna and salmon — or a placebo. Scientists will then evaluate IPE’s effects on subjects’ brains through a series of tests. These include measuring brain blood flow using magnetic resonance imaging (primary outcome), detecting biomarkers of the disease in patients’ cerebrospinal fluid, and performing cognitive performance tests.

“Alzheimer’s disease is devastating,” said Carlsson. “The health and science communities are working on treating this disease on many fronts, from drugs and treatments that stop and reverse the disease, to lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that help delay or stop the onset of symptoms.”

The BRAVE-EPA study, she said, considers another possible intervention: using a supplement “we know is safe and has heart-health benefits, and determining if it can also contribute to slowing Alzheimer’s in veterans with a family risk for the disease.”

Those interested in participating in the trial can find eligibility criteria and further information at ClinicalTrials.gov.