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San Diego Alzheimer’s Researcher Says Large Knowledge Gaps Remain

Photo caption: Daisy Duarte, right, cares for her mother, Sonia Cardona, in a production sti...

Photo credit: Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts

Daisy Duarte, right, cares for her mother, Sonia Cardona, in a production still from the documentary: "Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts." Cardona has early-onset familial Alzheimer's disease.

San Diego Alzheimer's Researcher Says Large Knowledge Gaps Remain


Dr. Jerold Chun, senior vice president for neuroscience drug discovery, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

There are more than 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and it costs more than $200 billion a year to provide them care.

A new PBS documentary, "Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts," explores the stories of families affected by the disease. But how close are scientists to developing treatments that could cure Alzheimer's, not just manage its symptoms?

Perhaps a decade or more away, according to Dr. Jerold Chun, a professor and senior vice president for neuroscience drug discovery at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. Some basic information about Alzheimer’s remains elusive, he said. We know growing older is the biggest risk factor for the disease, but we don’t know why.

“There’s surprisingly large gaps in our knowledge that remain to be filled. One is this whole aging mystery,” Chun said.

About 1 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have what’s known as familial Alzheimer’s: the disease is essentially passed down from generation to generation. But even in these rare cases where Alzheimer’s is closely tied to genetics, age is still the key to developing symptoms.

“Even if you have the rare causal genes, they don’t develop it until they’re older,” Chun said. “You don’t have it in small children. The earliest might be in their 40s or 50s.”

Researchers hope the more they learn about these basic questions, the closer they can get to a cure. While some promising drugs are still undergoing testing, a failed trial of the experimental drug solanezumab late last year was seen as a major setback.

“Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts” airs Wednesday at 10pm on KPBS-TV. Chun joins KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on his research into new treatments.

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