Catching Alzheimer's early

October 14, 2012 12:10:02 AM PDT
Of the ten deadliest diseases in the world, it's the only one that cannot be prevented, slowed or cured.

Right now five million people are living with Alzheimer's and that number is expected to triple by 2050. The Alzheimer's association recently awarded its largest research grant ever to the DIAN trial, a study they hope could change the future of the 15-million people destined to die from Alzheimer's.

The work Robert Balfour's doing at this hospital could change his life and the lives of millions. The 23 year old is one of 260 international participants in the DIAN or Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network Trial.

"We're very interested in helping to find a possible cure," Robert Balfour, told Action News.

This genetic form of the disease struck his grandmother, uncle and father and he could be next. When Alzheimer's is caused by rare mutations, half the family will get it before they're 60, some will see signs as early as 30 years old.

"I think the biggest surprise is how similar dominantly inherited Alzheimer's disease is to regular later onset Alzheimer's disease," Randall J. Bateman, M.D., Charles F. and Joanne Knight distinguished professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, said.

Doctor Randy Bateman believes the best way to find a treatment for everyone is to study people who have the gene that causes early onset. He says studying their brain changes before memory loss occurs may unlock answers to how the disease develops in all sufferers.

"We think that by treating Alzheimer's at an early stage will give us an opportunity to even prevent a person from having cognitive decline," Dr. Bateman said.

By early next year, researchers will start testing three new drugs that could slow or stop the disease.

"Frankly, in 10 years I really hope to have therapies for Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Bateman said.

Hope that may be too late for Robert's father, but could one day change this young man's future.

"In the midst of a difficult situation one has to look at the good that comes out of it," Robert said.

To be eligible for the international trial you have to be at risk of having the mutation, meaning you're the child or descendant of someone who had the disease. Less than one percent of all Alzheimer's cases are a result of a known genetic mutation. Experts are still enrolling for the trial to find our more visit dianexpandedregistry.org


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