Alzheimer's the disease of the year for 2009

We are progressing against it on many different fronts. There is no cure. Those with the diagnosis must still be treated as terminally ill. But a lot is going on.

I am calling Alzheimer's my disease of the year because so much progress has been made on it in 2009.

Besides, if Time can name Ben Bernanke "Person of the Year" some will say we need a disease to go with him.

We know a lot more about Alzheimer's, its cause and progression, than we did a year ago. We also know more about how to head it off. Given my own family history of Alzheimer's, that's a very good thing.

December has been especially active:

  • A protein called leptin, which we know controls weight, may have a big part to play in delaying or preventing the disease.
  • Brain plaques can occur in people with no symptoms of Alzheimer's, but discovery of these plaques raises their risk significantly.

This last is especially important given recent findings that football players are susceptible to these plaques, not just from concussions but from the smaller collisions that happen in practice. Boston University has launched a center to study this problem in all sports, and the NFL has issued new guidelines on concussions.

Earlier in the year, we learned that things as simple as apple juice and coffee can limit your risk of the disease. And Genentech found a link between a protein called APP and the development of the disease, which might lead to new treatments.

Alzheimer's is marked by the development of amyloid beta plaques in the brain, so many scientists have been looking at links to diabetes and heart disease. The same statins that reduce your risk of heart failure may also reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's plaques.

So I'm calling Alzheimer's the disease of the year because we are progressing against it on many different fronts. There is no cure. Those with the diagnosis must still be treated as terminally ill.

But as with Bernanke a lot is going on.

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