Newsweek (February 16, 2017): The New Offensive on Alzheimer’s Disease: Stop it Before it Starts

Publication Date: 
Fri, 02/17/2017

The announcement came the day before Thanksgiving, but there was nothing in it to be thankful for: An experimental Alzheimer’s drug many thought would slow the disease’s steady cognitive decline had failed to make a significant difference in a massive trial of people with early signs of the illness.

Marty Reiswig took the news hard. “I was just sad,” he says. “I was really hopeful that it would be life-changing for us.”

Reiswig doesn’t have Alzheimer’s disease - he’s a 38-year-old real estate agent in good health. But he is part of a large extended family that’s been afflicted by Alzheimer’s for generations. His Uncle Roy died of the disease. So did Grandpa Ralph. Eleven great-aunts and great-uncles. Dozens of cousins. And now, Reiswig says, “I’ve got a 64-year-old father who’s almost dead of Alzheimer’s at this point.”

His family is one of around 500 in the world with a genetic mutation that means its carriers will develop Alzheimer’s at a much younger age than those without the mutation, for whom the age of onset is typically about 80. For the Reiswigs, those with the gene become sick around their 50th birthday. Other high-risk families can start showing symptoms as early as their mid-30s or, in some cases, their late 20s.

Reiswig decided not to learn his own gene status - there’s a 50-50 chance he inherited his father’s faulty DNA, and he prefers living with the uncertainty. However, he isn’t just idly waiting to meet his fate. Three years ago, he signed up for an innovative drug study that could alter his family’s genetic destiny. Once a month, a nurse comes to his home, inserts a needle in his arm and watches as a bag full of liquid slowly drips into his bloodstream.