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For just a minute, try to imagine that you live in a house with dozens of holes in the roof. You can’t just repair one hole, you need to fix them all in order to keep your floor dry when it rains. According to Dr. Dale Bredesen, an expert in degenerative brain disease, Alzheimer’s disease is a lot like this situation.
In this case, the hole has a name: amyloid beta. For years, it has been the target of Alzheimer’s disease research. Amyloid beta is a protein that forms distinctive clumps of sticky plaque in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. There have been many efforts to remove the plaque from the brains, but, unfortunately, all of those efforts have failed. Patients who have undergone those clinical trials either did not improve or the drugs had such adverse side effects that they were deemed unsafe for patients.
Bredesen and other Alzheimer’s scientists are starting to believe the main reason they have yet to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that works is because they have only been focusing on one hole in the roof instead of all of them. “If you look at the basic mechanisms that lead to abnormalities and disease, there could be 36 different mechanisms” said Bredesen. In other words, he goes on to suggest “maybe we need to start patching more than one hole at a time.”
The pressure to find treatments and preventions for Alzheimer’s disease is on and steadily building each year - the Baby Boomers are starting to approach their 70’s which is when the disease is most likely to strike. Aside from the personal losses to individuals and families experienced by this terrible disease, doctors say that the needs of all of those patients with Alzheimer’s will be an enormous burden on the nation’s healthcare system.
In just California alone, almost half a million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s and that number only expected to increase. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, that number will increase to 660,000 by 2025.
Scientists agree that the amyloid beta protein is a very important clue to finding a treatment and it may actually be a viable target for drugs to treat the disease someday. However, in the meantime, scientists are starting to look for other targets of the disease and are digging much deeper into the history of the disease to identify the earliest signs of it in people who have yet to be symptomatic.