American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

The War Against Alzheimer's

Brain_3There is perhaps no disease that better illustrates the limits of medicine than Alzheimer's. Decades of research and billions of dollars spent in pursuit of a cure have resulted in very little practical treatment for the millions who suffer from the disease. On today's show: a leading Alzheimer's researcher who remains hopeful about the fight against the disease, despite recent discouraging news from the National Institutes of Health. Plus, a geneticist who's launching a large study in search of genetic clues that explain the prevalence of Alzheimer's in African Americans. And later in the show, a surgeon whose life changed when he found himself on the operating table.

Listen to this episode.

Segment 1: Preventing an Alzheimer's Epidemic
Guest: Dr. Steven DeKoskey, Dean of the University of Virginia Medical School

Alzheimer's disease has no shortage of dedicated researchers and physicians working to slow its devastating progress. We know more about the disease than ever, but for America's 5 million Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers, it's not enough. There is no cure. And current treatments can do little more than manage the disease's symptoms as it slowly destroys the minds of those who suffer from it.

In April, the National Institutes of Health assembled a panel of Alzheimer's experts - psychiatrists, geneticists, neurologists and others. The resulting report was discouraging to say the least: no progress on preventing, treating or curing the disease.  

But physicians and researchers remain hopeful. Among them is Dr. Steve DeKoskey. He's an expert in the translational research of Alzheimer's Disease, guiding medical and pharmaceutical research from the laboratory to the bedside. He was recently named the Dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Segment 2: The Genetics of Alzheimer's in African Americans
Guest: Dr. Goldie Byrd, Professor of Biology at North Carolina A&T State University

While Alzheimer's experts like Steve DeKoskey remain hopeful about the potential of treatments currently in the research pipeline, Alzheimer's patients and their families remain understandably frustrated about the current state of the war on the deadly disease.

But the battle against Alzheimer's is being fought on many fronts. While researchers and pharmaceutical companies search for drugs to treat the disease, scientists like Dr. Goldie Byrd look for clues to the disease's origins.

A professor of biology at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensborough, Dr. Byrd has been studying the genetics of Alzheimer's since 2003, focusing specifically on the African American population. African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease than their white peers, and she's currently recruiting two thousand Alzheimer's patients for a nationwide study in search of the specific genes involved in African American Alzheimer's patients.

Segment 3: Surgeon, Patient, Surgeon-Patient
Guest: Dr. Marc Wallack, Chief of Surgery at Metropolitan Hospital, New York City
Author, "Back to Life After a Heart Crisis: A Doctor and His Wife Share Their Eight-Step Cardiac Comeback Plan"

As we heard from Dr. Goldie Byrd, who has battled at home the every disease - Alzheimer's - that she studies in the lab, the priorities of physicians and researchers can change when they come face to face with illness or surgery.

In the case of Dr. Marc Wallack, a surgical oncologist, it was a nearly deadly case of heart disease. In 2002, Wallack was at the top of his profession, an expert in his field - and a marathon runner - when it was discovered that all four of his coronary arteries were blocked. With his wife, Jamie Colby, a network anchor at Fox News, Wallack documents his sometimes harrowing recovery from quadruple bypass surgery in the new book "Back to Life After a Heart Crisis: A Doctor and His Wife Share Their Eight-Step Cardiac Comeback Plan."