All optimism begins to evaporate when you sit face-to-face with an individual who has gone deep into the abyss of Alzheimer's. Communicating is an effective tool, often times, when dealing with people; but this tool alas proves thoroughly ineffective with an Alzheimer's case.
How do you interact with an individual who cannot relate with you, who cannot take the thread of a conversation further, who has lost all sense of their own identity? Talking to the family members is an experience in itself - one cannot but empathize with the spouse, the offspring or the other family members who can only silently and helplessly watch the progression of their patient towards complete inner withdrawal.
In the midst of hopelessness comes a slew of news about recent breakthroughs that assure that science and research are indeed making some surefooted progress, albeit at a slow clip, in effective medical prevention and cure.
It has now become possible, for example, for an early diagnosis of the disease using MRIs to measure any abnormality in the size of the brain ventricles. When the tissues surrounding the ventricles in the brain begin to die and shrink, the available space is taken up by the ventricles which automatically expand. The dying process commences much earlier usually, before the "official" onset of Alzheimer's, thus giving a reliable biological marker and therefore an advanced warning to all concerned to take appropriate action - before it is late. Wouldn't be surprised therefore if this MRI scan is included in the list of "must-do" tests when anybody touches a certain critical age.
An interesting drug that is rapidly crossing all milestones to reach market release is bapineuzumab (the first character in lowercase, please). This drug apparently works by washing away, or doing something equivalent, of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, said to be at the root of the Alzheimer's condition. The results of the study are likely to be presented today (July 29, 2008) at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, currently ongoing at Chicago.
In a creative shift of the focus away from conventional researching on ways & means of "washing away" the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, and towards "untangling" the fibrous tangles that too characterize Alzheimer's, a nasal spray has been developed that works on the tangles and that has been found to reverse some form (amnestic) of mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to a full-blown Alzheimer's. (Uh, can use of this nasal spray also improve memory in general? Now that's a huge industry waiting, too!) But it is still early days, and more research is required, but the spray is said to be quite promising.
Stay tuned in with the ICAD 2008 proceedings for more promising breakthroughs!
For an interesting and hope-inspiring observation emerging from the labs in the domain of AIDS-research, click on this blog post.