Alzheimer’s research makes advances
Alzheimer’s is a detrimental disease, not only to the person, but also to their loved ones. New research springs hope for future control of the development of this disease.
Dr. Paul Aisen, one of the leading Alzheimer’s researchers in the world, has dedicated his career to figuring out exactly what the disease is and what he can do to stop it.
Aisen is currently the head of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study. This is a collaborative research team between the National Institute of Aging and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) that is responsible for launching dozens of clinical studies, recruiting minorities to participate, and developing new diagnostic instruments. Aisen has been the head of the Study since 2007.
Professor Haberman, the assistant professor of biology at the University of San Diego, knows of Dr. Aisen’s work and also conducts his own research on Alzheimer’s, he believes that this line of research is profitable.
“There is the potential that Dr. Aisen’s study will be successful in finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. If the theory that amyloid plaques cause Alzheimer’s is correct, this study may finally discover a way to prevent or postpone the onset of the disease.” Haberman said. “ What is also exciting is that, if the amyloid hypothesis in not correct, this study may provide strong enough data to make that clear. So there is a good chance that this study will move the field of Alzheimer’s research forward, whatever the outcome.”
Aisen and his team at UCSD are developing a theory about how Alzheimer’s forms. The belief is that there are protein plaques, called amyloid beta, in the brain that build up over time.
These plaques harm and eventually kill neurons, which lead to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This line of research has lead Aisen to believe that there is a slight genetic link to the disease.
A sophomore student at USD, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject, believes that this is a particularly important line of research because of her experience with the disease.
“My grandpa on my mom’s side had it and died a couple years ago. He didn’t get help until it had progressed too far and it was too late for anything to be done.” She said. “We used to visit him in the nursing home a lot before he died. He couldn’t communicate very well, but I could tell he was frustrated when he tried to talk to us. It was like he was trapped inside his own mind. One time we saw him and he thought it was 20 years ago. My grandma on my dad’s side was just diagnosed and wears a patch that’s supposed to help.”
Although there is currently not much in the way of research to validate the amyloid hypothesis, Aisen stands firmly behind it. He believes that other studies were never successful because they started too late.
Prior to physical symptoms there are years of neural deterioration. This is what Aisen is aiming his research towards. He wants to identify when the brain starts creating the plaque and stop or reduce it before it can lead to severe deterioration.
The current trials involve volunteers whose brains have shown signs of early amyloid beta development. A new drug is undergoing research and has provided astonishing results.
The medicine successfully reduced the plaque levels and improved cognition.
The student is aware of some form of drugs, but not the current on on the market. Her background in science has also lead her to have a deeper understanding of the disease.
“Other than the patch, I’m not really up to date on what treatments are out there. I don’t even really know much about the actual medicine in the patch or the problems my grandma faces.” She said. “I feel like there’s an inclination to ignore the disease in an effort to cope with what’s going on. As a biology major, I had the opportunity to learn about the formation of the plaques that cause the disease which helped me better understand what was going on with my family.”
Opponents of this approach claim that it does not make sense to do drug based trials because they lead to expensive failures and because it is aimed solely at one possible cause of Alzheimer’s.
Also, they criticize the work for its narrow scope since there is only a very minimal possibility that Alzheimer’s is genetic.
However, these statistics do not do much to ease the mind of the student. She is still wary that there may be some genetic factors involved.
“Because I have a history of Alzheimer’s on both sides of my family, I worry about a possible genetic predisposition to the disease. I also think about my parents getting older and pray to God that they stay sharp in their old age.” She said.
These steps toward a cure, or treatment, could not come at a better time.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, people worldwide living with this disease will triple from 44 million today, to 135 million by 2050. This will begin affecting the baby boomer and millennial generations because they have longer life expectancies.
This research will become increasingly important for the millennial generation since their life expectancies are longer, this leaves more time for the disease to develop and puts that generation at a higher risk.