Doctors upbeat about Alzheimer's treatment

PHOENIX (AP) – Doctors and researchers are optimistic that earlier detection, better treatment and a potential vaccine may change Alzheimer's disease from being a death sentence.

"It's a very hopeful time," said Dr.

Eric Reiman, head of the Arizona Alzheimer's Disease Consortium and director of the brain-imaging positron emission tomography center at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center here.

The consortium, established in 1998, is a statewide effort comprised of eight biomedical institutions: Banner Good Samaritan, Barrow Neurological Institute, the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, and the Sun Health Research Institute, the state's three universities and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

Each member of the consortium is working on a different piece of the Alzheimer's puzzle.

Among the pieces: understanding molecular mechanisms that could provide new drug targets; studying risk factors for developing the disease; analyzing brain imaging scans; and detecting signs that the disease is present or worsening.

"We've made some progress in the scientific understanding, early detection, tracking, treatment and prevention," Reiman said.

In addition to the consortium, the state landed one of 29 national Alzheimer's research centers.

It is supported by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Alzheimer's disease affects about 4.5 million Americans, and the number is expected to explode as baby boomers age.

Ten percent of all seniors 65 and older have Alzheimer's, and nearly half of those 85 and older have the disease.

In Arizona, the number of deaths from Alzheimer's has more than tripled over the past 10 years.

Nearly 1,700 people died from the disease last year compared with 505 people in 1993, according to data compiled by the Arizona Department of Health Services.