The Elusive Alzheimer's Cure

It seems like every time you turn around there’s another “breakthrough” in Alzheimer’s disease research. So why hasn't a cure been found?

It seems like every time you turn around there’s another “breakthrough” in Alzheimer’s disease research that supposedly brings us one step closer to the cure. I offer the following 12 stories, just from the past month, as an example:

Study Points to Dietary Cocktail for Alzheimer's

New Drug Reverses Alzheimer's Disease within Days In Mouse Models

Calpain Inhibitors Never Forget: Improving Memory in Alzheimer's Disease Mice

Mechanism Explains Calcium Abnormalities in Alzheimer's Brain

Second Genetic Risk Factor for Late-onset Alzheimer's Disease Found

Automated MRI Technique Makes Alzheimer’s Diagnosis Faster

Anti-inflammatory Drug Blocks Brain Plaques

Advance Toward Early Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Molecular Imaging Sheds New Light on Progression of Alzheimer's Disease

Grape Seed Extract may Reduce Cognitive Decline Associated with Alzheimer's Disease

Mechanism Explains Link Between Apolipoprotein E and Alzheimer's Disease

Drugs Being Tested for Alzheimer's Disease Work in Unexpected and Beneficial Ways

What gives?

These 12 stories are just the tip of the iceberg; this frequency of new, promising news about Alzheimer’s research has held true for years. So, why isn’t there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, or a way to prevent it from developing? What happens with these breakthroughs? Are researchers disconnected from one another and focused on too many separate issues? Would they be better off collaborating on more general foci? Does grant money dry up, leaving research left unfinished? Or does it really just take so long that a breakthrough we heard about years ago—For example, results of a Massachusetts General Hospital study published in 1998 that found a mutation strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk—hasn’t yet made its impact on everyday practice? How do physicians react to these breakthroughs when they read about them? Are they solely basic science breakthroughs that tell us more about the fundamental nature of the disease that may lead to a cure many years down the road, with a “Eureka!” moment—in which one discovery alone leads to a cure—almost never occurring? Are most of the “breakthroughs” that we hear about in the news and read about in the medical literature initially promising roads to explore that ultimately turn out to be dead-ends?

Let’s hope that Richard Mayeux, MD, professor of neurology, psychiatry, and epidemiology, Columbia University, and co-director, Columbia's Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain, was right when he said—a little over a year ago at a public symposium held in Washington, DC—that he was “ ‘reasonably optimistic’ that a cure will be found because the drugs now being developed to treat Alzheimer's are based on what appears to be the true biological basis of the disease.”