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Is Alzheimer's disease really curable?


November 11, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • An essay suggests that Alzheimer's disease is incurable.
An essay suggests that Alzheimer's disease is incurable. (Michael Morgenstern / For…)

The decision by health experts to separate Alzheimer's disease from age-related dementia and deem it potentially curableĀ  "opened a Pandora's box" and may have misdirected research for decades, a team of scientists suggests in a new analysis of the field.

Despite great efforts to find treatments to stop or slow progression of the disease, there are only a few medications for Alzheimer's disease and they only help mitigate symptoms, not the disease process.

In their paper, published in the December issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers from the University of South Florida propose that senile dementia, which includes Alzheimer's, is not a distinct disease but can be explained by simple aging along with other risk factors. Rather than look for specific elements of disease that cause dementia, researchers should turn their attention to how to extend the life of neurons.

"The model implies that senile dementia is, by and large, a lifestyle disease," said the lead author of the study, Ming Chen, a research biochemist and director of the Aging Research Laboratory, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, in a news release. "This view . . . contrasts sharply with current dominant theories in the Alzheimer research field, which assume a linear and 'cause and effect' mechanism."

The view that Alzheimer's is an age-related type of dementia suggests that the condition is incurable. But, Chen said: "Our research, if guided by correct theories, will produce medications to help delay dementia to a certain extent -- similar to the drugs that delay or ameliorate atherosclerosis and osteoporosis today."

The paper is sure to generate controversy since most of the scientific research community has not given up on ways to prevent or arrest Alzheimer's disease. In recent years, Alzheimer's researchers have acknowledged the need to redirect their attention. However, the major focus of research now is on how to intervene early in the disease process to slow or halt brain damage.

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