There are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. and that number is projected to reach 16 million by 2050.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and it is the only leading cause of death that cannot be prevented, slowed, or cured.
However, thanks to national and international awareness efforts, a lot more is known about the disease and momentum has been building in the field study.
“There’s plenty of research taking place and one of the areas I look to are clinical trials,” said University of West Florida biology professor Dr. Rodney Guttmann. “That is sort of our gold standard for where are we in the field of Alzheimer’s disease; what is coming down the pike fairly recently.”
Dr. Guttmann has conducted his own research focused on Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration. He says right now there are about 250 active clinical trials and nearly 80 of those have participants in the state of Florida.
“Amongst early trials…things that might be coming down the line five to ten years from now, a lot of things on imaging,” Guttmann said, noting that there are a lot of trials looking at imaging studies, with many of those focused on early detection.
“There are also some cool things out there that I think are fascinating; whole brain irradiation, deep brain stimulation, working on mitochondrial compounds.”
There are also studies focused on the role of insulin in Alzheimer’s, which is also considered Type 3 diabetes.
While most of the clinical trials are pharmaceutical, Dr. Guttmann says not all of the trials are medical.
“There are trials out there looking at things like exercise, things like yoga, dancing, mindfulness,” said Dr. Guttmann, who points out that moderate walking is also being investigated as another alternative approach to improving cognitive function of people with Alzheimer’s.
When asked, he tells people that eating right and exercise are still the two mainstays for prevention of Alzheimer’s based on what they now know about the disease.
However, Dr. Guttmann puts a lot of faith in the clinical trials, pointing out that one such study is now getting underway at UWF in partnership with members of the community.
“We’re very excited about working on a study looking at agitation in Alzheimer’s disease and we will be looking forward to having a healthy recruitment of participants in our area, to kind of bring the state of the art technology to our area.”
More details about the trial at UWF will be forthcoming. In the meantime, Alzheimer’s research is making gains.
The Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Impact Movement are celebrating bipartisan legislation that has been introduced in the House and Senate aimed at making Alzheimer’s disease a national public health priority.
Congress has approved an increase of $400 million for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health, bringing the total to $1.5 billion in funding in 2017.
Earlier this month, billionaire Bill Gates announced his financial support for the fight against Alzheimer’s. He details why he's getting involved on his blog gatesnotes.
“We’ve been very fortunate over the last several years that the federal government and state government have really started to step up and realize the importance of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Guttmann, adding that Gates’ focus on finding a cure has added an new level of awareness. “I believe it’s $100 million, (he’s) already given $50 million and has pledged another $50 million. And, of course that’s good news for the people that someone is so motivated to put that kind of resource into Alzheimer’s disease research.”
To date, Alzheimer’s disease is the only disease in the top 10 with no treatment or cure and it’s the only disease of the major diseases where there’s been an increase in mortality.
When asked if he’s optimistic that at some point that a cure or even a viable treatment will come along, Dr. Guttmann said, “It is going to happen.”
He credits advances in technology and great strides in the understanding of Alzheimer’s over the last 20 years.
“And, as that has taken place, you see these trials still coming down the pike with new and innovative ways of approaching it and I have total confidence that we are going to prevent or treat this disease in the coming years ahead.”
The focus of most current research is on prevention. And, Dr. Guttmann is unsure whether anything in the pipeline right now will keep people from developing the Alzheimer’s, he’s predicting that this disease will be “a thing of the past” in the next couple of generations.