Ten percent of Americans over 65 years of age (5.1 million individuals) suffer from Alzheimer's disease (AD). By 2050, aging baby boomers will cause that number to reach 16 million!
AD first presents with forgetfulness but soon develops into a more severe and debilitating disorder including: confusion, personality changes, anxiousness, irritability, and severe memory and intellectual disturbances. Eventually patients no longer function normally. The average Alzheimer's patient dies about 8 to 12 years after the initial diagnosis. It is particularly difficult for family and friends to watch helplessly as the patient loses all sense of identity and their place in the world.
AD symptoms develop because brain cells (neurons) are decimated. Why are neurons dying? Part of the answer lies in brain changes observed in Alzheimer's patients, including the characteristic "plaques" and "tangles." Plaques are dense and toxic clumps of proteins that collect around neurons. Tangles occur when fibers inside neurons become twisted, also causing neurons to die.
Precisely why plaques and tangles develop or why some individuals but not others are predisposed to AD are largely unanswered questions. There are no cures for AD. Nor can we slow disease progression.
However, we at the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center are optimistic in our fight against AD.
Understanding the disease. We’ve known for many years that there is a bad actor in Alzheimer’s called Abeta. An article published in the journal Nature (February 09) described how a part of the APP molecule called N-APP triggers death and degeneration of neurons. Recent results from a biotech company have shown by reducing levels of this abnormal protein there is a slowing of mental decline (news). This work further validates the amyloid hypothesis proposed by Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center co-founder and investigator, Dr. Dennis Selkoe.
The Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center plays a critical role funding several programs that will be instrumental in finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease: the Biomarkers Program, Clinical Trials Innovation Program, NeuroBehavior Laboratory and a pilot grant program which enables junior investigators to perform novel research in AD and dementia that would not otherwise be funded.
The Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center is dedicated to accelerating the discovery of effective treatments and cures for Alzheimer's disease. For information about how to support our approach, click here. For information about coping with Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Association website is a very good place to start: Alzheimer's Association