Alzheimer's Cases Could Bankrupt Nation's Health Care System

Alzheimer's Cases Could Bankrupt Nation's Health Care System

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*Ed Yeates Reporting*This is the second piece of a two-part special report

Treating a projected 16-million Alzheimer's patients by 2050 could financially break the nation's health care system. The Government worries too about loss of productivity from some of the greatest minds, and the stress on families taking care of loved ones. The pressure is on researchers to find a remedy - and fast!

Though Tony is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, he's still aware of everything around him. Participating in activities like those at the Silverado Center allows patients to keep their minds engaged. But what if scientists could have discovered a genetic or chemical marker in Tony years ago? Seeds planted, but not yet growing.

Daniel Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., U of U Institute of Neuropsychiatry: “There probably has been trouble brewing in the brain for decades before it has gotten bad enough that the symptoms begin to show.”

Utah based Myriad Genetics has now launched a major study. Volunteers go in only once to donate a blood sample. Researchers are looking for possible biochemical markers which may predispose families to Alzheimer's.

Dr. Donna Shattuck, Myriad Genetics: “What’s really important for us is to get large families to participate. A family size of six to eight children, that allows us to sample the descendants of an Alzheimer patient.”

But finding a marker is only the beginning. When doctors detect your cholesterol levels rising, they may prescribe a statin drug to inhibit, even prevent the development of heart disease. Imagine a similar scenario for Alzheimer's.

Daniel Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., U of U Institute of Neuropsychiatry: "Where you could identify someone very early - maybe at age 50 - where the disease might not start until age 65, and begin the prevention then so they never get the disorder."

Myriad Genetics is beginning human clinical trials in Canada of a new drug that might do just that. It appears to go after a toxic molecule, which many researchers now believe is a primary trigger for Alzheimer's.

Dr. Kenton Zavitz, Myriad Genetics: "This drug is the most potent that we've seen to be able to lower the toxic molecule production in the brain as well as to lower the accumulation of the plaques that accumulate in the Alzheimer's brain."

So, like taking medication to keep plaque out of your arteries, this new drug may do the same for a different kind of plaque in the brain.

Daniel Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., U of U Institute of Neuropsychiatry: "With mice and cells it's been lowered by as much as 80 percent. And it just appears on the surface that this would be quite significant in altering the course of the disease."

Researchers are testing a lot of Alzheimer’s drugs, but Myriad is optimistic about this particular compound because it's so well tolerated. Theoretically, a person might be able to take the drug for many years with few, if any, side effects. If so, perhaps the so-called golden years really could become the golden years.

To volunteer for the detection study, call 584-3735.

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