Berk: A Cure for Alzheimer's Disease is on the Horizon

As told by Steven L. Berk, M.D.

If no breakthroughs in treatment or prevention occur, there will be 7.7 million Americans with Alzheimer's by 2030.

If no breakthroughs in treatment or prevention occur, there will be 7.7 million Americans with Alzheimer's by 2030.

Physicians see many tragic diseases each day and treat failing organs such as kidneys, the liver, heart or lungs. However, most would agree there is no disease more tragic than Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that is recognized by loss of memory and ability to think. It is failure of the brain and brings with it a special kind of overwhelming sorrow, frustration and tragedy. It is a disease that destroys the mind and soul of its victim, but one that equally devastates families.

As a geriatrician, I have been well acquainted with the tragedy of this disease, but as one whose father died from Alzheimer’s disease, I have a more poignant understanding of what Alzheimer’s really means. I am not alone. Essentially everyone knows a family that has been touched by the tragedy of Alzheimer’s.

An Uphill Battle

Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed every 70 seconds in the U.S. Currently, 5.3 million people in the U.S. are affected, but future projections are much worse. It is estimated that if no breakthroughs in treatment or prevention occur, there will be 7.7 million people with this disease by 2030. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging and one can live to be over 100 years old without contracting the disease. Unfortunately, however, the disease does increase in frequency with an aging population, so for those who live to be 85, almost half will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The cause of the disease is not well understood and the treatments available are not extremely effective for most patients. There is no way to prevent Alzheimer’s, although staying heart healthy with a good diet, exercise and blood pressure control is helpful.

Diseases that are incurable one day are treatable the next. Great breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment require the commitment of physicians and scientists around the world. At TTUHSC, we are proud of our faculty members who are fighting the battle against Alzheimer’s disease.

On the Front Lines

Chang Kuo Wu, M.D., is the Corinne Payne Wright Endowed Chair in Alzheimer’s disease and a neurologist who came to us from Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Illinois, where he had years of training in testing new drugs for this disease. His research program will give West Texas Alzheimer’s patients an opportunity to receive some of the most promising new treatments.

Sid O’Bryant, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology and director of research at the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health, has led an investigation into a new blood test that may diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages and help initiate early treatments.

Andrew Dentino, M.D., the University Medical Center Bernard T. Mittemeyer Endowed Chair in Geriatric Medicine, leads a team of geriatricians and geriatric fellows who treat Alzheimer’s patients. They advise patients about available drugs, new clinical trials and work to preserve quality of life.

Stephanie McClure, M.D., chief of geriatrics and the Mirick-Myers Endowed Chair in Geriatrics at TTUHSC in Amarillo, is the director of the Amarillo Alzheimer’s Academy, a unique program to help caregivers cope with Alzheimer’s.

Parastoo Momeni, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine, has received funding from the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health to study the difference in Alzheimer’s disease presentation in men versus women.

The cure for Alzheimer’s disease may await our better understanding of what happens in the Alzheimer’s brain and why. Paula Grammas, Ph.D., executive director of the Garrison Institute on Aging and the Mildred and Shirley L. Garrison Chair in Aging, is funded by the National Institutes of Health to study the role of abnormal blood vessels in Alzheimer’s and her work has been of interest worldwide.

Bradley Miller, M.D., Ph.D., CH Foundation Chair in Neurologic Disease, is an expert in the pathology of the nervous system. He uses brain tissue to understand disease processes and help research teams better understand the disease that caused the death of their Alzheimer’s patients.

In the battle to better understand, cure and cope with Alzheimer’s disease, the School of Medicine has many outstanding individuals fighting on the front lines with the many other researchers around the world, our hopes are in clinics and laboratories.

World Alzheimer's Day

Sept. 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day a time to encourage our patients, support their families and recognize our volunteers, fund raisers, doctors, nurses, researchers and caregivers.

There was once a time when polio attacked the nervous systems of children and adults, causing widespread agony and suffering. Polio was eradicated through scientific discovery. Someday, Alzheimer’s disease will be as well.

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