New studies will test preventive Alzheimer's therapies

The Washington Post examines several ambitious new studies designed to accurately identify the early onset of Alzheimer's and use biomarkers to track the effectiveness of new therapies to prevent the ailment.

The Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix is undertaking two studies--one in Colombia and the other in the U.S.--that will try to identify the genetics involved in the disease and then use new brain-imaging technology to track markers for Alzheimer's. Avid Radiopharmaceuticals has a dye--AV45--that binds to telltale plaques, making them light up on a PET scan.

"This is a compound that sees amyloid in the brain," Michael Weiner of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. And it has been revolutionizing the diagnosis of the disease, which until now has had to wait for an autopsy for a definitive answer. The institute's new studies are slated to launch in 2012.

Alzheimer's offers an immense new market for drug developers. But there is still no clear understanding of how it can be treated, let alone prevented. By 2050 the disease could affect 13.5 million people.

"We have a tsunami coming at us, and we're sitting in a rowboat," says neurologist Richard Mayeux of New York's Columbia University.

- here's the story from the Washington Post