What is Alzheimer's disease? It's natural to think of this degenerative neurological disorder as the most common to affect long-term memory, but less known are its distinct subtypes. A recent UCLA study discovered that there are three subconditions into which Alzheimer's can fall:
A focus on metabolism
Dale Bredesen, MD, author of the study, UCLA professor of neurology and member of the Easton Laboratory for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, is well-known for his attention to Alzheimer's disease. In 2014, he showed that making lifestyle, exercise and diet changes designed to improve the body's metabolism actually reversed cognitive decline in nine-out-of-10 patients with early Alzheimer's disease or its precursors. He first became interested in Alzheimer's research when, as an undergraduate, he became "fascinated by the mechanisms involved in learning and memory."
Because Alzheimer's disease doesn't produce a tumor to biopsy, Dr. Bredesen took a different approach to see what was driving the degenerative process. He and his team used the underlying metabolic mechanisms of the disease to establish numerous laboratory tests, such as the fasting insulin and copper-to-zinc ratio tests.
A touching but persistence-driven area
Why study Alzheimer's disease? "The medical and societal need is enormous, and [still] growing, with dire consequences if an effective treatment is not identified," Dr. Bredesen says. "The underlying mechanistic neurobiology is fascinating, and the stories told by the first patients who have improved on our protocol are truly touching." In fact, he mentioned how one of his patients who had greatly improved said he had allowed himself to think about the future again.
For students interested in doing research, Dr. Bredesen suggests learning to "go back and forth between the finest details and the largest vision, in order to help contribute to the advancement of your chosen field." As one might expect, however, the most frustrating part of research is that the more innovative and insightful the proposed experiment, the less likely it is to receive financial support.
"Therefore, one must be persistent," Dr. Bredesen says.
What is Alzheimer's disease?
So what is Alzheimer's disease? It's a general term for one neurological degenerative disease that is now known to have different subtypes. The number of people with Alzheimer's disease of any subtype is set to increase in the U.S., from nearly 6 million today to an estimated 15 million by 2050, with treatment costs growing from $226 billion to $1.1 trillion in 2050. Ultimately, hopefully knowledge of the causes of the disease will bring about better and more cost-effective treatments. For now, Dr. Bredesen and his team will continue to study whether or not the three different subtypes have different causes, and if so, how to target treatments for them.
As Dr. Bredesen says, "You are only limited by what your mind can envision and create."
By Carolyn Mau