Alzheimer’s disease America’s sixth most deadly disease that affects 5.3 million countrymen. It has existed for thousands of years and mystified scientists for more than a century.
While neuroscientists, geneticists and biochemists have mapped out the disease’s multi-causal nature and its immensely complex genetic-environmental interaction, the public appears determined to obtain an easy out.
Thirty years ago the world hope that aluminum in antiperspirant and cookware was the culprit behind Alzheimer’s. And so did the cinnamon cure, the chili pepper-pepper cure, the coconut-oil remedy. The hottest street buzz is marijuana.
But the real cutting edge of neuroscience is not a happy clinic of patients enjoying stunning prevention results with drug-free treatments. It is a room full of PhDs soberly sharing meticulously sequenced genomes, assayed enzymes, and isolated signaling molecules so that safe, effective new drugs can be created and tested.
Based on decades of hard science: Alzheimer’s unfolds over many decades, as a protein called beta-amyloid proliferates in the brain—at first in healthy amounts performing vital functions, and eventually in excess. In most people (but not all), beta-amyloid then spurs the creation of destructive neurofibrillary tangles inside nerve cells. These tangles can also be caused by head injury or strokes. Consequently, chronic inflammation does even more damage to brain tissue. Some people experience this buildup and cascade process faster than others.
Diet and lifestyle are not immaterial since exercise and sleep can lower risk, as well as foods that are bad for the heart are also bad for the brain. Unfortunately, the biggest lifestyle factor is age. Alzheimer’s becomes more threatening with every year that we get older. Nearly half of those over 85 have it.
Researchers today are aiming to synthesize a suite of drugs that will safely reduce beta-amyloid plaques, mitigate tangle formation and address inflammation.
The international research consortium at the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund recently funded a breakthrough experiment that was able to recreate full-blown Alzheimer’s in living human brain cells in a petri dish. Another group study identified a therapeutic avenue so promising that it drew a prestigious National Institutes of Health “Blueprint” grant for drug development all the way to clinical trials in patients.
Scientists are making progress but are likely still billions of dollars and years of research away from a true cure. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s health-care costs are more than $200 billion a year and will spiral past $1 trillion as the population ages. Yet it is shameful that the federal government last year spent $591 million on research into the disease.
It is hard for the public to feel connected to hyper-specialized scientists’ molecular understanding of the disease. But then the public needs to understand as the researchers need to better explain that we will beat Alzheimer’s only with its full-throated support of fact-based science.
Scientific research will stop the Alzheimer. Coconut oil and marijuana won’t.