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Paul Aisen, a neuroscientist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and one of the world’s leading experts on drug therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, is featured prominently in HBO’s upcoming three-part documentary series on the affliction.
The effort by HBO — especially on a topic as unsexy as Alzheimer’s — is impressive. In addition to the five one-hour segments that will be aired Sunday through next Tuesday, the network has designed a robust website that includes other video material, Alzheimer’s facts sheets and Facebook page where people can post tributes to those suffering from the disease.
I was able to corral Aisen today for a quick chat about the HBO project and the current happenings in the world of Alzheimer’s research.
Have you seen the movie? And if so, how is it? What do you think its impact will be?
I have seen some of it. It’s a high-quality production. It considers the science, but is presented on a level that is accessible to a large audience. It has proven to be a very important effort, and the result is the creation of a real resource for people who are facing Alzheimer’s and have many questions about it. There is a huge amount of info on the internet. Some is great, some is terrible. The HBO site is very impressive and be helpful to many, many people.
What is the latest when it comes to Alzheimer’s drug treatment?
We are on the verge of a major step forward. Alzheimer described the disease in 1906, then we were nowhere until 1993 when the first drug was developed. The last 16 years have been the therapeutic age. [But] while the drugs on the market are helpful, they do not to any meaningful extent change the course of this disease. But we are now on the brink of changing that. We are now on the brink of next-generation treatments — which we call disease modifying treatments — that get to the mechanism of the disease. These are treatments that will slow or even halt the progression of this disease. And ultimately, we will prevent this disease.
What has brought the research closer to a breakthrough?
We believe we know the specific molecular mechanism that cause Alzheimer’s and drives its progression. You can’t say this about cancer and cardiovascular disease — the other major diseases. That is why we are optimistic. We have a bunch of medications that are in late-stage medical testing. Substantial breakthroughs are pretty close — in 5 to 10 years we will have a series of advances that will enable us to control the disease to a major extent.