Interview with an Alzheimer’s expert, Part I: How far are we from a treatment?



5.3 million Americans have AD and 1 person every 70 seconds is diagnosed with the disease. There are many questions that need to be addressed regarding this disease.

We are pleased here at Battling for Health to have an exclusive interview with one of world’s foremost experts on Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Dr. Michael Rafii, MD, PhD is the  co-director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at UCSD Perlman Ambulatory Care Center in La Jolla, California and Assistant Professor of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. He is also the Associate Medical Core Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) specializing in cognitive disorders, including dementias such as AD.

We sent several questions on AD to Dr. Rafii and we are happy to share with you his responses.

QUESTION: AD has been the subject of numerous research studies but till now, no effective treatment has been found. Why is it so difficult to find a treatment for this disease? How far are we from a treatment?

 ANSWER: Current research indicates that AD may in fact be silently developing in the brain over 10-20 years, BEFORE its key symptom of short term memory loss even shows up in patients.  The idea is that a protein called beta-amyloid is slowly accumulating in the brain, first damaging brain cells, and then depositing into plaques.  Many drugs, some of which target amyloid, have been tested in the symptomatic phase, which is likely too late in the course of the disease to have a tremendous impact.  However, we now have tools such as cerebrospinal fluid analysis and neuroimaging that allow us to measure amyloid in the brain, and are helping us detect AD’s pathology before symptoms show up.

 I think a good analogy for AD is heart diease.  If a patient presents with a Heart Attack, starting them on a cholesterol lowering medication at that time will be a little too late.  Rather, if they start lowering their cholesterol years earlier, they may never have the heart attack in the first place.  Some believe that amyloid is analogous to cholesterol.  The challenge is to measure the amyloid and to get drugs that lower amyloid INSIDE the brain.  By lowering amyloid levels, we might lower the risk of having symptomatic AD, that is memory loss and dementia.

 We currently have trials in progress for medications that are being evaluated in the mildest stage of AD, when memory loss is just starting to occur.  I am optimistic that in the next few years we will have new treatments available.

Medical research such those being conducted at Dr. Rafii’s clinic will hopefully bring AD treatment closer to reality. However, in order for research studies t be conducted, research subjects and volunteers are needed. Check out how you can help at: www.adcs.org/Studies/ImagineADNI.aspx.

 Follow Alzheimer’s Research on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Alzheimers-Disease-Research/114211355284888

We have many more Q & A on AD with Dr. Rafii which we will share with you in the coming posts. Stay tuned!

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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