Medical Minute 11-4: Diagnosis to Cure Alzheimer's

By: Andrew McIntosh Email
By: Andrew McIntosh Email

Lisa Carbo has trouble remembering the simple things. She keeps a journal to remember what she had for lunch, and which medicine she's taken.

What Lisa fears most? She won't remember her grand daughter.

"She's the love of my life."

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago, Lisa's hoping a new IV drug will stop the progression of her disease.

"Most of the antibodies that are being studied right now, it attacks the proteins before they accumulate and form plaques," said Michael Biunno, M.D., Louisiana Research Associates.

Alzheimer's disease is caused by abnormal proteins in the brain. These new meds are antibodies that attack the proteins that cause plaque build up.

Ed Coleman is hoping the same drug Lisa is taking will change his fate. Doctors believe it could attack the proteins even before they reach the brain- and stopping this disease is critical. Deaths from Alzheimer's increased 66 percent in the last decade while deaths from breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, stroke and HIV all decreased. Diagnosing it early is key to successful treatment.

A way to see Alzheimer's years before the brain is damaged has been developed. Doctors inject an imaging compound -called AV45 into patients. PET scans reveal normal brains like this one and brains full of amyloid plaques -shown in red and orange. From diagnosis to treatment-two breakthroughs that could impact almost all of us-sooner or later.

"This could be a game changer."

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Alzheimer's disease is a disorder in which nerve cells (neurons) in your brain degenerate and eventually die. As your nerve cells lose function, you'll experience a steady loss of memory and other thinking abilities (cognitive skills) and gradually lose your independence. Alzheimer's disease can't be cured, but doctors can help you manage your condition. (

NEW TREATMENTS: Some of the new Alzheimer's treatments furthest along in development target plaques — microscopic clumps of the protein beta-amyloid. Plaques have long been considered an Alzheimer's disease hallmark. Two strategies aimed at beta-amyloid include immunizing the body against it and blocking its production.

A vital brain cell transport system collapses when a protein called tau twists into microscopic fibers called tangles — another hallmark brain abnormality of Alzheimer's. Keeping tau from forming tangles offers another potential drug target. One medication currently under investigation is taken as a nasal spray.

Alzheimer's causes chronic, low-level brain cell inflammation. Based on success in treating inflammation elsewhere in the body, researchers are attempting to develop drugs that zero in on specific inflammatory processes at work in Alzheimer's disease.

Growing evidence suggests that brain health is closely linked to heart and blood vessel health. Your brain is nourished by your arteries. The risk of developing Alzheimer's appears to increase as a result of many conditions that damage the heart or arteries. In addition, the strongest known genetic Alzheimer's risk factor is one form of a gene for apolipoprotein E, a protein that carries cholesterol in the blood. A number of studies are exploring how best to capitalize on this heart-head connection.

LOUISIANA RESEARCH ASSOCIATES: Currently, they are conducting several different trials for Alzheimer’s disease. In general, trials are open to individuals 50 years and older who suffer from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Each candidate must be able to swallow oral medication, have a consistent care taker, and live in assisted living, not nursing homes. Duration of trials vary from 18 months to two years. Safety and efficiency of new medications form the focus of the trials. If any eligible subject has not had a CT scan of the brain performed over the last two years, then one will be provided. All eligible will be paid for their time travel. (

Michael J. Biunno, M.D.
Louisiana Research Associates

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