Neuroscience researchers will launch a project analyzing the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in a five-year-long study beginning next year, with research focusing primarily on prevention of the illness rather than post-diagnosis treatment.

Neuroscience professor Ken Kosik will lead a team of researchers from the United States and Colombia to study the effectiveness of the new drug crenezumab in treating the common neurological illness. The $100 million study will perform clinical trials on a family in Medellín, Colombia which has experienced a unique strain of the illness stemming from a specific genetic mutation. Kosik is the Co-Director of UCSB’s Neuroscience Research Institute and Harriman Professor of Neuroscience Research in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department.

While attempts to treat Alzheimer’s disease have commonly sought to cure the disease after its onset, the upcoming study will search for ways to avoid the illness altogether. Since scientists have struggled for over 20 years to find such a cure, success treatment using crenezumab would be ground-breaking, according to Kosik.

“These things take a long time to develop,” Kosik said. “There have been other drugs … so far they’ve all failed.”

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a buildup of proteins which impairs brain function, causing memory loss and overall degradation of the brain. The illness is thought to be primarily caused by genetics since proteins are introduced into the brain by the victim’s own body rather than by pathogens coming from outside the body, as in the case of the similar neurological illness bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease.

Crenezumab, an antibody, will act as an agent that hunts down and eliminates these disease-causing proteins, Kosik said.

“They will attack viruses or bacteria,” Kosik said. “But in this case, the target is the Alzheimer’s protein.”

Members of the Colombian family being studied are diagnosed with the disease by at least age 49 since this strain of the illness takes effect much earlier than other forms. Although Kosik discovered the family over 20 years ago and they are the largest family with the rare genetic mutation, he has long debated how ethical it would be to actually study them with use of the experimental drug treatment.

Researchers agreed with the family that individual members would not be told if they had the mutation since such knowledge could alter major life decisions, as one man told Kosik he would kill himself if he possessed the mutation while a woman said she would be afraid to bear children.