Getting the support of the local community and physicians is the best way to recruit patients for clinical trials of potential Alzheimer’s disease treatments, US research suggests. Far less successful are approaches such as patient registries and internet recruiting.

The study was led by Tamara Markgraf, research programme manager at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Madison, US. Markgraf and colleagues interviewed 22 administrators and outreach staff from 20 Alzheimer’s Disease Centers (ADCs) about their recruitment strategies and outcomes. The US National Institute on Aging funds 30 ADCs at major medical institutions across the US.

Markgraf et al’s findings were reported at the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Vienna, Austria. After inadequate funding, patient recruitment for clinical trials is the biggest single barrier to developing better treatments for the disease, pointed out Dr William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer’s Association.

The interviews revealed that all of the ADCs used community outreach and educational seminars to promote participation in clinical trials. A total of 17 centres visited health fairs and 15 recruited from health clinics, with 10 of the centres saying recruitment from clinics was their most productive strategy. Other approaches that worked included word of mouth (four centres) and referrals from physicians (three).

All of the ADCs also reported partnering with outside organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, while several had linked with churches, church groups or church leaders in their efforts to boost recruitment. Many had tried mass mailings, such as sending out postcards to high-density postal codes.

Half of the ADCs used a recruitment registry, with databases of anything from 200 to over 1,500 names. Yet only six of the sites regarded their registry as a “beneficial” recruitment tool. And while every ADC had a website, only seven out of 20 saw it as a useful, active tool for recruitment. In fact, internet recruitment emerged as the least successful approach in the study.

“Our data suggest that successful recruitment is a result of a comprehensive recruitment plan,” Markgraf commented. “The successful ADCs promote study participation while conducting community educational events, and they actively partner with outside physicians.”