More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and as the Baby Boomer generation ages, the terrible toll of the disease is expected to keep growing. There hasn't been a new drug approved to treat Alzheimer's in a decade, but researchers are working hard to change that.
A clinical trial is now underway to test a new drug that shows promise for slowing the relentless progression of memory loss and mental decline in Alzheimer's patients. The drug is called T-817MA and it's designed to protect nerve cells in the brain.
"We are absolutely hoping it can prevent cognitive decline, it will prevent the disease from progressing and prevent the clinical changes that happen," said Dr. Amy Aloysi, a specialist in geriatric psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, one of the hospitals taking part in the trial.
The study plans to enroll 450 people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease at about 50 hospitals across the country.
Researchers are looking for more volunteers like 80-year-old Judy Hirsch, who signed up at Mount Sinai. Hirsch was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2012, and while her long-term memory is still intact, her husband Neil explains she has trouble remembering things that just happened.
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"We'll go to a movie, she'll be into the movie and she'll watch what's on screen she'll laugh at a comedy and she'll rub my hand if something thrilling happens. We'll walk out of the theater and it's, 'Did you like the movie?' 'Yup.' 'What was it about?' 'I don't remember,'" he said.
Judy Hirsch says taking part in the clinical trial gives her hope. "Because I have children, I have grandchildren, I have great-grandchildren. I'd like to live a while," she said.
Federal funding for Alzheimer's research is about $600 million a year, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America recently estimated that there are 73 Alzheimer's drugs in development. But many once-promising Alzheimer's drug prospects have failed to live up to expectations once they reached clinical trials.
Researchers, patients and their families are hoping this trial -- or one of the others -- yields a breakthrough soon.