updated 10/13/2004 3:25:53 PM ET 2004-10-13T19:25:53

About 800 older Americans will be asked to lend their brains to science this spring, part of a major government study to track early Alzheimer’s disease.

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Researchers will use brain-scanning MRIs and other tests to track people who have either early stage Alzheimer’s or a milder type of memory loss known as “mild cognitive impairment.” Over several years, they’ll compare biological changes deep within those patients’ brains to the aging that takes place in the brains of cognitively healthy seniors.

The goal is to find early warning signs that can identify people at highest risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and markers to help test the effectiveness of new therapies faster than can be done today.

Plans for the $60 million, five-year study were to be unveiled Wednesday by the National Institute on Aging. While mostly funded by the government, about a third of the study’s financing will come from pharmaceutical companies and the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association.

In April, researchers will begin recruiting 55- to 90-year-olds — some healthy, some with MCI, some with Alzheimer’s — to participate in the study. For more information, call 1-800-438-4380.

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