CBS News (January 4, 2014): How Close is a Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease?

Publication Date: 
Sat, 01/04/2014

CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook and Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, joined "CBS This Morning: Saturday" to discuss the major medical stories of the week.

Last month in London, health officials from the G-8 countries held a summit on the growing threat of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to double his nation's commitment to research funding over the next decade to fight the global epidemic.

LaPook told the co-hosts that the number of people with the disease is staggering. He said there is an estimated 5 million Americans that have Alzheimer’s.

While Tanzi, who discovered the first Alzheimer’s genes, has spent his entire career trying to end the disease, he told the co-hosts that treatment is “really back to square one."

“Unfortunately, the available drugs are in that category of 'better than nothing;' they treat some of the symptoms, and mainly temporarily, so the benefits go away after time,” he said. “What we really need is a drug that will stop the actual progress of the disease, and, as many people know, the recent trials for those types of drugs have failed.”

He explained that doctors now have a better picture of how the disease progresses.

“We now have a good picture of the stages of the disease, going from this gooey toxic material that sticks to the nerve cells and kills them and then the nerve cells die from within, and then, even worse, the brain sees all this and thinks it’s an attack from the outside and the immune cells start to attack the nerve cells, and nerve cells die by friendly fire,” he said.