Clinical trials offer new hope in battling Alzheimer’s, researcher says


The statistics are sobering.

More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease – a figure that is expected to skyrocket in the coming years. Every 66 seconds, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. One in three seniors will die with the disease.

“Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death – the only one of the top 10 for which there is no known cause, no treatments and no cure,” said Kay Redington, CEO of the Central and North Florida chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “A half a million people in Florida are living with this disease, putting this state at the epicenter of the epidemic.”

New advances in medical imaging and a series of new clinical trials are offering new hope, however, in the battle to find a cure for the most prevalent form of dementia. At a luncheon presentation held last week at the Jacksonville Golf & Country Club, the director of scientific programs for the Alzheimer’s Association shared promising news about progress in the fight to end Alzheimer’s.

“It’s safe to say we’re in a time of a scientific revolution,” Dr. Keith Fargo said, “not unlike the kind of scientific revolution when Alzheimer’s was first described by Alois Alzheimer about 110 years ago.”

In addition to providing a wide variety of free education and support services to people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, Fargo said, the Alzheimer’s Association funds numerous grants and research projects.

“We see it as our role to support the scientific community and speed up the process of getting to the point of eradicating Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

One such grant has led to a major advance in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Previously, Fargo explained, the only way to positively confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease was after death, when an autopsy could determine whether the brain contained a buildup of amyloid plaques that are one of the tell-tale markers of Alzheimer’s. Using a grant from the Alzheimer’s Association, however, Dr. William Klunk discovered a way to detect amyloid in a living brain.

“This really kind of revolutionized the scientific landscape for Alzheimer’s disease research,” Fargo said. “This provides us a window of opportunity for prevention.”

Because scientists now recognize that amyloid plaques may build up in the brain for 15 or 20 years before signs and symptoms of dementia occur, Fargo said, scientists can now focus on developing medications that don’t merely treat the disease’s symptoms, but could possibly prevent them from ever occurring. To do that, researchers are conducting a number of large-scale clinical trials involving people who currently do not have the disease in an effort to come closer to a cure.

Such studies, however, require participants – and to recruit them, the Alzheimer’s Association has launched TrialMatch (, a free service that connects individuals with Alzheimer’s as well as healthy volunteers with clinical trials in their area.


Such extensive research requires funding, of course, and despite the millions of dollars allocated toward Alzheimer’s disease research, treatment and care, the funding gap remains wide.

Calling Alzheimer’s “the most expensive disease in America,” Fargo noted that while NIH funding for Alzheimer’s research increased dramatically last year to $991 million, Medicare and Medicaid spending alone on the disease last year topped $160 billion. When private costs were added, that figure grew to an estimated $236 billion.

The importance of funding in making medical advances is critical, Fargo said. At the luncheon presentation, he showed a slide indicating that while deaths from heart disease, stroke and HIV have decreased 14 percent, 23 percent and 52 percent, respectively, since 2000, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 71 percent during that same period.

“For many of the major killers, we’ve actually seen a decrease in the number of people who die from it," Fargo said. “These other diseases received considerable federal funding in terms of research. The NIH has really put its weight behind solving these diseases and it’s because of that that you’re seeing these decreases in the death rates over time.

“I believe that if we do the same thing for Alzheimer’s disease, make the same kind of commitment to funding research at the federal level… then we will turn that tide.”