Alzheimer’s disease has long plagued older people, their families and the medical establishment. But some recent findings from a group of scientists in Wales, which were published in the journal Nature Genetics,1 are shedding new light on the illness. What they’ve discovered could lead to breakthroughs that will have a major impact on how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, treated and, eventually, cured.
Dealing with Alzheimer’s disease
Health professionals, including physicians, diagnosticians, certified medical assistants and pharmacy technicians have been flummoxed by nearly every aspect of Alzheimer’s since it was first named as a disease in 1906. And as populations have come to live longer over the past century, instances of Alzheimer’s have become much more common, putting increased emphasis on the need for a cure, or at least better diagnosis and treatment options.
With Alzheimer’s costing the U.S. $203 billion in 2013 alone, and that figure expected to grow to $1.2 trillion by 2050,2 curing the disease is not only a matter of dealing with the human cost, it’s also essential to the long-term economic health of countries around the world. That’s why many of the latest breakthroughs in our understanding of the disease have medical professionals and families who have dealt with it feeling so optimistic – it appears that improved treatment is right around the corner.
The International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project in Wales identified 11 new genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s after scanning the DNA of more than 74,000 patients from 15 different countries.3 Along with the 10 genetic risk factors already known to scientists, these 11 new ones have added an entirely new element to how we understand the disease, including its relation to other diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
Aside from the medical findings, the fact that this breakthrough occurred through massive collaboration among researchers who might normally be competing against one another provides a roadmap for how our understanding of the disease can be further developed.
Impact on medical professionals
Because Alzheimer’s is such a complicated disease to treat, and it often requires extra care from all levels of the medical community, greater knowledge of how it works is essential to easing the overall burden of the disease.
As scientists continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s, the role many medical professionals play in its treatment and care should become much more effective and efficient, which should lead to better patient outcomes.
1 Gallagher, James, “Alzheimer’s Insight from DNA Study,” BBC News, Oct. 27, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24670848
2 “Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures,” Alz.org. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp
3 Scientists Discover 11 New Alzheimer’s Genes,” Medical News Today, Oct. 28, 2013. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/267998.php