Alzheimer’s Is Not Normal Aging — And We Can Cure It | Samuel Cohen | TED Talks
In the year 1901,a woman called Auguste was takento a medical asylum in Frankfurt. Auguste was delusionaland couldn’t remembereven the most basic details of her life. Her doctor was called Alois. Alois didn’t know how to help Auguste,but he watched over her until,sadly, she passed away in 1906. After she died, Alois performed an autopsyand found strange plaquesand tangles in Auguste’s brain –the likes of which he’d never seen before. Now here’s the even more striking thing. If Auguste had instead been alive today,we could offer her no more helpthan Alois was able to 114 years ago. Alois was Dr. Alois Alzheimer. And Auguste Deterwas the first patient to be diagnosed withwhat we now call Alzheimer’s disease. Since 1901, medicine has advanced greatly. We’ve discovered antibiotics and vaccinesto protect us from infections,many treatments for cancer,antiretrovirals for HIV,statins for heart disease and much more. But we’ve made essentially no progressat all in treating Alzheimer’s disease. I’m part of a team of scientistswho has been working to finda cure for Alzheimer’s for over a decade. So I think about this all the time. Alzheimer’s now affects40 million people worldwide. But by 2050, it will affect150 million people –which, by the way,will include many of you. If you’re hopingto live to be 85 or older,your chance of getting Alzheimer’swill be almost one in two. In other words, odds areyou’ll spend your golden yearseither suffering from Alzheimer’sor helping to look after a friendor loved one with Alzheimer’s. Already in the United States alone,Alzheimer’s care costs200 billion dollars every year. One out of every fiveMedicare dollars get spent on Alzheimer’s. It is today the most expensive disease,and costs are projectedto increase fivefold by 2050,as the baby boomer generation ages. It may surprise you that, put simply,Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest medicaland social challenges of our generation. But we’ve done relativelylittle to address it. Today, of the top 10causes of death worldwide,Alzheimer’s is the only onewe cannot prevent, cure or even slow down. We understand less about the scienceof Alzheimer’s than other diseasesbecause we’ve invested less timeand money into researching it. The US governmentspends 10 times more every yearon cancer research than on Alzheimer’sdespite the factthat Alzheimer’s costs us moreand causes a similar numberof deaths each year as cancer. The lack of resourcesstems from a more fundamental cause:a lack of awareness. Because here’s what few people knowbut everyone should:Alzheimer’s is a disease,and we can cure it. For most of the past 114 years,everyone, including scientists, mistakenlyconfused Alzheimer’s with aging. We thought that becoming senilewas a normal and inevitablepart of getting old. But we only have to look at a pictureof a healthy aged brain comparedto the brain of an Alzheimer’s patientto see the real physical damagecaused by this disease. As well as triggering severe lossof memory and mental abilities,the damage to the braincaused by Alzheimer’ssignificantly reduces life expectancyand is always fatal. Remember Dr. Alzheimerfound strange plaques and tanglesin Auguste’s brain a century ago. For almost a century,we didn’t know much about these. Today we know they’re madefrom protein molecules. You can imagine a protein moleculeas a piece of paper that normally foldsinto an elaborate piece of origami. There are spotson the paper that are sticky. And when it folds correctly,these sticky bits end up on the inside. But sometimes things go wrong,and some sticky bits are on the outside. This causes the protein moleculesto stick to each other,forming clumps that eventually becomelarge plaques and tangles. That’s what we seein the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. We’ve spent the past 10 yearsat the University of Cambridgetrying to understandhow this malfunction works. There are many steps, and identifyingwhich step to try to block is complex –like defusing a bomb. Cutting one wire might do nothing. Cutting others mightmake the bomb explore. We have to find the right step to block,and then create a drug that does it. Until recently, we for the most parthave been cutting wiresand hoping for the best. But now we’ve got togethera diverse group of people –medics, biologists, geneticists, chemists,physicists, engineers and mathematicians. And together, we’ve managedto identify a critical step in the processand are now testing a new class of drugswhich would specifically block this stepand stop the disease. Now let me show yousome of our latest results. No one outside of our labhas seen these yet. Let’s look at some videos of what happenedwhen we tested these new drugs in worms. So these are healthy worms,and you can seethey’re moving around normally. These worms, on the other hand,have protein moleculessticking together inside them –like humans with Alzheimer’s. And you can see they’re clearly sick. But if we give our new drugsto these worms at an early stage,then we see that they’re healthy,and they live a normal lifespan. This is just an initial positive result,but research like thisshows us that Alzheimer’s is a diseasethat we can understand and we can cure. After 114 years of waiting,there’s finally real hopefor what can be achievedin the next 10 or 20 years. But to grow that hope,to finally beat Alzheimer’s, we need help. This isn’t about scientists like me –it’s about you. We need you to raise awarenessthat Alzheimer’s is a diseaseand that if we try, we can beat it. In the case of other diseases,patients and their familieshave led the charge for more researchand put pressure on governments,the pharmaceutical industry,scientists and regulators. That was essential for advancing treatmentfor HIV in the late 1980s. Today, we see that same driveto beat cancer. But Alzheimer’s patients are oftenunable to speak up for themselves. And their families, the hidden victims,caring for their loved ones night and day,are often too worn outto go out and advocate for change. So, it really is down to you. Alzheimer’s isn’t,for the most part, a genetic disease. Everyone with a brain is at risk. Today, there are 40 millionpatients like Auguste,who can’t create the changethey need for themselves. Help speak up for them,and help demand a cure. Thank you.