We are lucky to be living in a time of significant scientific advancements — allowing us to live healthier, longer lives. But longer lifespans increase the likelihood of age-related health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, affecting 5.4 million men and women (and growing). It is also the only top 10 killer in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even treated effectively.
Why not? For those of us in the research community working toward a cure, the greatest challenge is not the disease itself. The biggest hurdle in Alzheimer’s is finding enough volunteers for studies — like the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) — to allow the research to continue at the pace needed to be successful against this “silent epidemic.” This fight is personal to me not only as a scientist, but because I am watching my mother slowly decline from Alzheimer’s. I know what millions of Americans are facing with this disease.
As the largest and most comprehensive Alzheimer’s disease research study of its kind, ADNI is helping to identify the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s, when brain damage begins. With better knowledge of the earliest stages of the disease, we may be able to test potential therapies earlier, when they have the greatest promise for slowing down progression of this devastating disease. I believe strongly in the potential of this study — so much so that I have been volunteering in it myself over the past six years, and can attest to the fact that the experience is highly educational and the procedures are safe.
ADNI’s research has made significant inroads into this complex disease and has put us at the cusp of further discoveries that could help better treat Alzheimer’s. To continue the momentum, we must spread the word that everyone can contribute to furthering research. No medical degree required.
I encourage you to lend your voice to this issue and raise awareness of the importance of clinical trials in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Better yet, consider participating in the ADNI trial. We are seeking normal persons, patients with Alzheimer’s disease and individuals with mild cognitive impairment to better understand the breadth and progression of the disease. The age range is 55 to 90.
Changing the face of Alzheimer’s disease is possible, but we can’t find the answers we need without volunteer partners in science. It will take everyone’s involvement — researchers and clinicians, doctors, patients, friends and family members, and trial participants — to fight this disease effectively. Together we can continue to enhance lives by contributing to the advancement of science.
Michael W. Weiner, M.D.
Director, Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases
San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Professor of Medicine, Radiology, Neurology and Psychiatry
University of California, San Francisco
This post originally appeared in Alzheimer’s Insights, an ADCS Blog.