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Staff Writers
Updated March 24, 2021

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Alzheimer Researchers

  • Alois Alzheimer
  • Robert Katzman
  • Rudolph Tanzil
  • Virginia Lee and John Trojanowski
  • Paul Greengard

There is a direct link between getting older and getting Alzheimer's. Although aging does not cause Alzheimer's, those who are 65 and older are at greatest risk.

Experts now estimate that almost half of those aged 85 and older have Alzheimer's. Forgetfulness and confusion are early symptoms, and those in the beginning stages may have difficulty remembering things and organizing their thoughts.

The condition was first described in the early 1900s, and there are five researchers who have played key roles in bringing Alzheimer's to public attention.

1. Alois Alzheimer

Alzheimer's was first described by German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer in 1906. He called it "a peculiar disease," a severely debilitating neurological disorder and a rare form of senile dementia. Up until then, dementia had only occurred in patients over 65. Dr. Alzheimer's patient, Auguste D., was only 51 years old but still had all the symptoms. Dr. Alzheimer proposed that these symptoms, the most glaring of which was short-term memory loss, might be caused by microscopic changes in the brain. When Auguste D. died, an autopsy revealed significant brain shrinkage in areas related to thought, language, and judgment. There were also unusual deposits around the brain's nerve cells.

2. Robert Katzman

In 1976, neurologist, medical activist and researcher Robert Katzman declared in an editorial published in the Archives of Neurology that Alzheimer's was now the most common cause of dementia and had become a major health challenge. Dr. Katzman founded the California Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and taught at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. In 1977 he hosted a conference on Alzheimer's sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. At that event, Dr. Katzman declared that Alzheimer's Disease had become a "major killer" and was now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. More than 45,000 articles about Alzheimer's Disease have been published since then, along with detailed descriptions of how Alzheimer's affects families and individuals.

Resource: Top 10 Cheap Master's in Gerontology Online Degree Programs

3. Rudolph Tanzil

Dr. Tanzil, a Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Alzheimer's Genome Project, discovered the Wilson's disease gene and helped to identify several other disease genes that play a role in the development of Alzheimer's. He has published almost 500 research papers on Alzheimer's Disease, received numerous prestigious awards for his work and co-authored popular books such as "Decoding Darkness, Super Genes, and Super Brain. In 2015, Dr. Tanzil was named one of Time Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential People in the World. Today, Dr. Tanzil continues to search for a cure for Alzheimer's through genetic research carried out at the Genome Project.

4. Virginia Lee and John Trojanowski

University of Pennsylvania researchers Virginia Lee and John Trojanowski test the damaged brains of Alzheimer's patients in an effort to understand this disease and find a cure for it. After years of research, they finally discovered that there are Tau proteins in the brain that become folded and then actively spread tangled information to other brain cells. They are now searching for a way to stop the spread of erroneous information by unfolding damaged proteins, zapping them with antibodies or killing them all together with drugs. According to Dr. Trojanowski, Director of the Penn Institute on Aging, he and his team are presently testing their theories on mice and hoping to learn how to stop the spread of Alzheimer's throughout the brain. If they can block the spread of information from damaged proteins for as long as five years, they believe it would be the equivalent of finding an Alzheimer's cure.

5. Paul Greengard

Neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard, Director of the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research at Rockefeller University, heads up a team of renowned scientists and researchers all searching for ways to prevent, eliminate or delay the progress of Alzheimer's. Dr. Greengard has published over 1,000 scientific papers in prestigious journals like Nature and Science. He and his team believe that the protein beta amyloid is the main culprit in Alzheimer's. This protein creates dense deposits in the brain called plaques that choke off brain cells and kill them. Today, drug companies are working to develop a medication that can inhibit the buildup of amyloids. Meanwhile, Dr. Greengard and his team continue to search for ways to retard plaque accumulation in brain cells and thereby prevent the spread of Alzheimer's throughout the brain.

These scientists, along with many others, continue to search for a way to ease the pain of Alzheimer's Disease, not only for patients but also for their families. It is hoped that soon, researchers will be able to identify and manipulate genes that are linked to Alzheimer's. They hope to develop medications and other treatments that can stop the action of damaged proteins or prevent the development of Alzheimer's altogether.

Related topic: Affordable Online Master's in Gerontology Degree Programs

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