FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – It’s a devastating disease that causes concern for all of us with aging parents: Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors in the United States will die with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
A doctor and team of researchers in Fort Worth are working to change the statistic through new clinical trials.
Dr. Sid O’Bryant is an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC). The clinical trials run through his lab are in partnership with several pharmaceutical companies seeking FDA approval of cutting-edge Alzheimer’s medication. The last time the FDA approved a new treatment was 2003.
“The approach has been, let’s find one drug that treats every Alzheimer’s patient,” explained Dr. O’Bryant. “Do you know how many drugs we have to treat diabetes? How many drugs we have to treat hypertension? I don’t think it’s fair to assume one drug is going to treat every Alzheimer’s patient.”
Two trials are already underway at UNTHSC, and the school is on the list for more to come. Part of the effort, Dr. O’Bryant says, is to see if different drugs on different types of Alzheimer’s patients will have different results.
“It’s really interesting to see the drug. I think it’s got some really promising qualities.”
O’Bryant is developing a blood test that would help primary care physicians easily diagnose the disease and refer patients to specialists. Alzheimer’s disease slowly kills brain cells, starting with the memory center.
Ellen Brown watched her mother, Sue M. Smith, care for her grandmother during Alzheimer’s. As a daughter, Ellen now finds herself in her mother’s shoes.
“I have to have faith. I have to, because if I didn’t, then I’m facing the possibility. I’ve not had the genetic test done, but there’s a large possibility,” Brown said. She said she first noticed symptoms in her mother about eight years ago, shortly after Smith suffered a stroke.
Sue Smith was a long-time art teacher, and accomplished in her own talents — especially basket weaving. Her daughter explained, “In the basketry world, she was a big deal. The ice skater Peggy Fleming actually commissioned a basket of hers.”
Brown says her mother continued to paint and draw up until recently. Gradually, Alzheimer’s disease is slowing taking those memories and skills away from her, among other things. “The one thing that drives me crazy — and I don’t know why — she refuses to say my name. It’s been a long time since she said it.”
Brown visits her mother several times a week at the James L. West Alzheimer’s Center — each time she brings memories of her won. “She and I were very close growing up. Very close. Sometimes I miss that, but I still have that, too.”
Brown, a mother herself, doesn’t gloss over the fact that the disease may be a part of her own future. A cousin of hers was also diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Her husband’s grandmother had the disease, too.
Brown now brings her 14-year-old daughter with her to visit. Her hope is, her child will not face the same challenges one day. That’s one reason she supports clinical trials the ones at UNTHSC, even though Smith could not participate. She sees a hope for the future.
“I have to have that faith that something large will happen. The more people we get behind the programs, the more money poured into research, I think the more we’ll be able to make more things happen,” said Ellen Brown.
UNT Health Science Center is seeking patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease to participate in clinical drug trials. Those interested can call 817-735-2694 or send an email to Kim Brown at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
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