In 2003, a group of scientists and executives from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the drug and medical-imaging industries, universities and nonprofit groups joined in a project that experts say had no precedent: a collaborative effort to find the biological markers that show the progression of Alzheimer's disease in the human brain.
The scene was a kind of science court. On trial was the question “Can anything - running on a treadmill, eating more spinach, learning Arabic - prevent Alzheimer's disease or delay its progression?”
To try to answer that question, the National Institutes of Health sponsored the court, appointing a jury of 15 medical scientists with no vested interests in Alzheimer’s research. They would hear the evidence and reach a judgment on what the data showed.
Will Alzheimer's disease, a terrible degenerative brain disease with no treatments and no clear guidelines for diagnosis before its end stages, become like heart disease? Will there be early markers of risk, analogous to high cholesterol levels, that will predict who is likely to get it? And will there be drugs that actually prevent it?
In 1966, as a visiting medical student at a London teaching hospital, I interviewed a husband and wife, in their early twenties, who had recently experienced a truly calamitous health catastrophe. On their wedding night, in their first experience of sexual intercourse, a malformed blood vessel in the husband's brain burst, leaving him with a disabling paralysis of the right side of his body. Stunned and guilt-ridden, the couple clutched hands and cried silently as they shared their suffering with me.
Harvard researchers have uncovered a mechanism through which caloric restriction and exercise delay some of the debilitating effects of aging by rejuvenating the connections between nerves and the muscles that they control.
The research, conducted in the labs of Joshua Sanes and Jeff Lichtman, both members of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard and professors of molecular and cellular biology, begins to explain prior findings that exercise and restricted-calorie diets help to starve off the mental and physical degeneration of aging.
First Alzheimer's disease stole Rosemary DeFelice’s speech, mobility and independence. Then, at 75, she lost the ability to eat.
She would chew away at her food, coughing and sputtering and spitting up but swallowing very little, said her daughter, Cyndy Viveiros. And like many relatives caring for patients with advanced dementia, Ms. Viveiros had to decide whether or not to have a gastric feeding tube inserted.