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July 1, 2009 > Promising Alzheimer's Research Could Mean Better Treatments

Promising Alzheimer's Research Could Mean Better Treatments

Washington Hospital Seminar Provides Update on New Discoveries

Alzheimer's is a scary disease, both for those who have it and their loved ones. The thought of losing your memories, your past, yourself can be very unnerving. Not being remembered can be heartbreaking.

"It is a scary condition," said Alex Morris, Family Service manager at the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California. "Cancer is the only disease feared more, according to the data I've seen."

But there is promising research underway, including clinical trials, which could someday lead to better treatments and possibly even a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

"We are cautiously optimistic," said Morris, who will present an upcoming seminar on the latest Alzheimer's research. "We have been encouraged in the past and were disappointed. So we need to be cautious."

She will present "Alzheimer's Disease Research Update" on Tuesday, July 14, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register, call (800) 963-7070.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia and currently there is no cure. Morris will provide an inside view of the disease, complete with brain scan slides and other visuals. Alzheimer's is a fatal brain disease that destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior. As many as 5.3 million Americans are living with the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Not Normal Part of Aging

While the number one risk factor for Alzheimer's is old age, the disease is not a normal part of the aging process. "Families want to think it's normal aging. She just forgot because she is 90. But really it's a disease process that is fatal," Morris said.

With Alzheimer's, two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are most likely responsible for damaging and killing nerve cells. Plaques build up between nerve cells and tangles are twisted fibers that form inside dying cells. Morris said most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, but those with Alzheimer's tend to have far more.

Researchers suspect plaques and tangles somehow block communication among nerve cells and disrupt activities that cells need to survive, according to Morris. "We think plaques cause the most problems," she said.

Scientists Hope to Disrupt Process

Clinical trials are underway for a compound that inhibits a protein called APP from forming into plaques. "The thinking is if we can keep these small insoluble protein fragments from being cleaved abnormally, or from connecting with each other, there will be no formation of plaques and you won't develop the disease," Morris said.

She will discuss these trials and other research that could lead to effective ways to prevent or stop the disease process.

"Researchers are also trying to find a way to diagnose Alzheimer's before there are symptoms using PET Scan technology," Morris said. "That would be the key to effectively monitoring this disease and when disease-altering treatments are available, we could determine whether the treatments are effective."

She has a personal stake in finding a cure for Alzheimer's. Her grandmother died of the disease in 1987, prompting her to start her 20-year career as a gerontologist specializing in Alzheimer's.

"Alzheimer's is taking a serious toll on so many of the families we serve," she said. "The last data I saw showed that 70 to 80 percent of Alzheimer's patients are cared for in the home. So that's an incredible loss of income, someone has to stay home with them. It's a big burden on families."

Because Alzheimer's is so devastating, patients and their loved ones sometimes reach for questionable treatments, according to Morris. She encourages anyone who has questions about treatments they have heard about to come to the presentation and get the facts.

"Bring your questions about research, current treatments, prevention, they will get answered," Morris said. "If I don't have the answer, I will find it."

To learn more about Alzheimer's, register for the seminar by calling (800) 963-7070 and visit

For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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