Alzheimer's: Will there ever be a cure? Part 1

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It's a disease that kills more Americans than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, and it leaves families with a fading memory of who their loved one once was.

Alzheimer's disease will be the death of one in three seniors, which, when you look at the numbers, will likely include someone you love.

When my maternal grandmother died, she hadn't known me in ten years.

Researchers have been trying to find a cure for decades, but how much progress have we really made, and will there ever be a cure?

Alzheimer's is not a new disease.

In fact, the man for whom it is named, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, first described this "peculiar disease" in 1906 when he had a patient with profound memory loss. Dr. Alzheimer died in 1915 never knowing the disease his patients had would one day touch the lives of millions.

So how far have we come with research?

In 1992, my medical reporting took me to one of the foremost medical centers in the world, the Albert Einstein Institute in New York City. I interviewed a world renowned researcher who was quite sure at the time that we would be able to effectively treat the disease in the not-so-distant future.

This is what Dr. Peter Davies told me at the time: "What I think we can do is extend that protection. We'll make the onset of Alzheimer's the age of 105, and then it won't bother most of us. But I think that's achievable in the next ten years."

That was 24 years ago, and while making progress, Elkhart neurologist and researcher Dr. Thomas Vidic admits frustration. "That's hard to look patients in the eye, and their family members in the eye, and say, 'Sorry, we are already doing everything we know how to do.'"

Vidic, through the Elkhart Clinic, has been involved in national Alzheimer's studies for two decades. It was a national study, done at the Elkhart Clinic, that led to a drug still being used today for Alzheimer's and dementia.

"We started with Cognex, which isn't even used today, but we had that drug as sort of a pre-Aricept," Vidic explains. "For the families that had family members taking it, it was tough drug to take. It was a four-times-a-day drug and made people nauseated."

But Vidic and other neurologists around the world kept up with new trials. From Cognex, Dr. Vidic became involved in the Aricept study, a drug still widely used today, as well as another.

"We were involved in at least one of the Aricept studies as well as one of the Exelon studies. Basically what we are doing is trying to find chemicals that help the brain function better. It would be great if we could find a drug that would stop or slow down Alzheimer's, but right now the drugs we have available help the brain do better with what's going on."

In spite of all the research going on around the globe, there hasn't been a new drug to treat Alzheimer's in ten years.

But Dr. Vidic just wrapped up two phase two studies. One is called the NOBLE Study, and you've heard about it when we've shared Paula Abraham's diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's last year.

The Lundbeck study, which is the sister study to another in Sweden, is now in analysis.

I asked Dr. Vidic if these will become the cutting edge drugs of the future that will actually stop or greatly stave off Alzheimer's. His response: "I sure hope so."

Alzheimer's: Will there ever be a cure? Part 2