As much as Alzheimer’s disease research has advanced in the past 20 years, Mayo Clinic researchers say caution is warranted about the future prospect of breakthrough drugs in this decade, or even the next. Dr. Petersen expresses this hesitancy. “There are a million studies that describe how things could be happening, and they make sense, but we don’t know that they are true,” he says. “We have to keep an open mind.”
Still, there has never been a better time, or a brighter outlook, for Alzheimer’s disease researchers who spend their careers trying to find an answer to this most devastating of diseases. “Before, there was a lot of faith and not a lot of science. It was like you were leading a detective-like investigation into the Alzheimer’s killer using chisels and hammers to chip away at deeply buried clues,” Dr. Golde says.
“Now we have the scientific tools and fancy machines that allow us to be so much more productive and to progressively solve this mystery,” he says. “It’s a new century.”
Defining Alzheimer’s disease risk with the help of thousands
As much as investigators worldwide are betting that the sticky plaques made up of amyloid beta (AB) fulfill the role of central villain in Alzheimer’s disease, all researchers know about cognitively normal people who, during an autopsy, were found to have brains full of the plaque.
These patients may not be as sensitive to AB’s toxic effects as others are, some scientists speculate.
But really, scientists can’t explain it.
That is why Mayo Clinic researchers in Minnesota, Florida and Arizona are enrolling thousands of individuals, including patients who do not have memory problems, people in mild cognitive decline and patients with the disease, to participate in what collectively is one