Archive for September, 2010

Most people did not believe Columbus when he said the world is round. Now in the world of Alzheimer’s disease research, Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has created quite a stir. He states, “The buildup of amyloid plaques was described over 100 years ago and has received the bulk of the attention in Alzheimer’s pathology. But there has been a longstanding debate over whether plaques are toxic, protective, or inert.”

So instead of the belief that brain cells are being destroyed by the sticky plaques, Gandy and his researchers think that there are free-floating clumps of protein that may be the culprit and that the sticky plaques may actually be protecting the body against these toxic clumps.

According to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine:

Several research groups had previously proposed that rather than plaques, floating clumps of amyloid (called oligomers) are the key components that impede brain cell function in Alzheimer’s patients. To study this, the Mount Sinai team developed a mouse that forms only these oligomers, and never any plaques, throughout their lives.

The researchers found that the mice that never develop plaques were just as impaired by the disease as mice with both plaques and oligomers. Moreover, when a gene that converted oligomers into plaques was added to the mice, the mice were no more impaired than they had been before.

This will take research in a new direction. Drugs that target plaques may not be of any help and could even make the disease worse.  Gandy works with specially engineered mice and William Thies, Chief Medical Officer, Alzheimer’s Association, warns us that the leap from mice to men is a long one and until Gandy’s experiments can be duplicated, drug companies will not be investing billios of dollars into creating new medication.

When Andrew Dillin, Ph.D., of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies started pursuing the oligomer theory several years ago, he said the the idea was so controversial that some scientists would walk out of the room when he made his presentations at conferences. Now, many top researchers are convinced.

More about oligomers and plaques in the next post.

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World Alzheimer’s Day 2010

Today is September 21st, World Alzheimer’s Day. The theme is, Dementia. It’s Time for Action! This is not a domestic issue; it is a world-wide challenge. There are events going on around the world marking World Alzheimer’s Day to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and related memory diseases. Every 71 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease and currently, it’s estimated that there are 30 million people in the world that have dementia and 60% of those live in developing countries. By 2040, it is estimated to go up to 71% and by 2050, the total is expected to rise to a whopping 100 million people! The fastest growth in the elderly population is taking place in China, India, and their south Asian and western Pacific neighbors.

In the US, about 360,000 people are newly diagnosed every year. Alzheimer’s affects about 10 percent of people ages 65 and up, and the prevalence doubles roughly every 10 years after age 65. Half of the population ages 85 and up may have Alzheimer’s.

Two Alzheimer's Breakthrough Riders, St. Louis to Madison Route

Here in the United States, we had the the first Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Ride, a cycling event that had more than 55 researchers collecting signatures to present to Congress on World Alzheimer’s Day. The initial goal of 50,000 petition signatures to urge Congress to make Alzheimer’s disease a national priority was quickly obtained and now there will be over 100,000 signatures presented at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time at Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill. One of the goals is to support passage of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, a bill that develops a coordinated National Alzheimer’s Disease Plan.

I hope you had a chance to sign the petition. Let’s continue to support the Alzheimer’s Association and all of their efforts.

I’ve been writing for about a year now … it’s been an eye-opening journey. I continue to search for answers as to what can be done. I invite you to continue with me on this journey. Click here to read the post I wrote last year about World Alzheimer’s Day.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research and the need for volunteers. I had heard nurse practitioner, Alice Brown, from Georgetown University Medical Center speak on Research in Alzheimer’s Disease: Hope for the Future. She is part of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown. There are many such programs across the country. Click here for a list of others. At Georgetown alone, there are at least seven research trials for which volunteers are needed. By volunteers, they mean everyone, including normal people. The trend in research is to identify people at risk for developing AD before they even show symptoms of the disease. AD does not develop overnight and pathology is present in the brain long before any signs or symptoms appear.

Alzheimer’s disease is the third most expensive disease in the US after cancer and cardiovascular disease and the fifth leading cause of death in those over 65. But not counted in the cost is the hours and hours of caregiver burden. We also know that age is the biggest factor in AD, but after that the major risk is a positive family history of the disease. Offspring of an individual with AD have a higher risk of getting AD as they age — about 30% compared to 10% of the general population of the same age.

Here is what current research is targeting:

  • Immune system — rid the body of toxic beta amyloid protein that form plaques (a known cause of AD)
    • Vaccines that allow the body to develop its own antibodies (active immunity)
    • Infusions that provide the body with antibodies within the infusion (passive immunity)
  • Brain repair — Nerve Growth Factor
    • Targets microglia — immune cells in the brain — to reproduce and repair the damage caused by beta amyloid
  • Inflammation — presumes inflammatory changes produce cell death and neuronal loss
  • Biomarkers – to help predict who may or may not develop AD and helps determine earlier targets for therapy
    • Cerebral spinal final (spinal tap — LP)
    • Imaging (MRI and PET)
  • Diabetes — questions regarding the role of insulin in brain function and metabolism

Brown stressed that the greatest barrier to progress in research is not enough volunteers and getting people to the location where the study is being conducted. If a study can’t recruit enough subjects or it takes a long time, then it will take longer to complete a trial and analyze results. Other problems are funding and the location of the study site.

For more information on the Georgetown program, check out this Web site — In a future post, we will look at the exciting, new findings.

Alzheimer’s Association — Memory Walk

Memory Walk began in 1989 and in 1993, it became a a nationwide event for the Alzheimer’s Association. Memory Walk is our country’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research. Since its inception it has raised well over $200 million nationally. For every dollar raised at Memory Walk, only 7% will go towards administrative expenses.

Not only does the Memory Walk raise funds, it raises awareness of this awful disease. According to the 2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the foremost public health threat of the 21st century. Here is the grim data:

  • An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (AD); approximately 200,000 persons under age 65 with AD comprise the younger-onset AD population.
  • Every 70 seconds, someone in America develops AD; by 2050 it is expected to decrease to every 33 seconds. Over the coming decades, the baby boom population is projected to add 10 million people to these numbers.
  • In 2050, the incidence of AD is expected to approach nearly a million people per year, with a total estimated prevalence of 11–16 million people. Dramatic increases in the numbers of “oldest old” (aged 85 years and older) across all racial and ethnic groups will also significantly affect the numbers of people living with AD.

You can do your share to help stop Alzheimer’s disease. Consider joining a Memory Walk team. Click here to find a team or start one on your own. My sister is representing our family. Please help support her team. Click here.

AD does not occur overnight. In some cases, it can start many years before you are even aware of it. Could you be one diagnosed with AD down the road? We have to fund the research to stop this. We have to help support the millions caregivers. We just might need the support of one in the years to come. Let’s help support them now!

Check out this video from the Alzheimer’s Association that tells you more about the Memory Walk.