Local neurologist joins in the 'revolution' in Alzheimer's care

LARRY GIERER/lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comColumbus neurologist Jonathan Liss is heavily involved with Alzheimer's Disease research.
LARRY GIERER/lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comColumbus neurologist Jonathan Liss is heavily involved with Alzheimer's Disease research.

Columbus neurologist Jonathan Liss believes significant progress is being made in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease.

"We are in the midst of a revolution in Alzheimer's care," Liss said last week.

The doctor said many people given a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease just want to go home to bed and wait to die.

"It is all gloom and doom. There has not been much hope," said Liss, a widely published research scientist with more than 20 years in the field.

And the depression is understandable, he said, since no new effective Alzheimer's drug has come out in the past 13 years.

But according to the Alliance for Aging Research, there has been a rapid increase in the amount of research aimed at fighting the condition, which the Alzheimer's Association claims is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

The National Institutes on Aging says at least 70,000 volunteers are needed to participate in more than 150 active Alzheimer's clinical trials and studies.

Liss said there is important clinical research involving people with every stage of the illness and some who have the genetic makeup making it likely they will get it. Liss is seeking volunteers for a major clinical trial with which he is involved.

Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Arizona has partnered with Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to conduct a medical trial to determine whether two anti-amyloid drugs can prevent or delay the emergence of Alzheimer's symptoms in people at particularly high risk.

It is a study partially funded by a $33.2 million grant commitment from the National Institutes of Health.

There will be eventually more than 60 sites worldwide, and one of the first three was placed in Columbus at the Memory Center on North Lake Drive.

Liss said his center is "sought after" because it is known for its hard work and effective research. He is thrilled to be a part of this trial.

"This could be something that brings relief to people with Alzheimer's," he said.

A cure may not be produced, but since Alzheimer's disease primarily affects those 65 and older, 10 more years of independence, even a couple, would mean a lot.

It is believed the amyloid protein plays a critical role in the development of Alzheimer's. People who inherited two copies of the apolipoprotein E (APOE4) gene, one from each parent, are at high risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.

"It is just a matter of when they get it," Liss said.

People in that category are being recruited for the trial to see if it is possible for researchers to tell if their experimental therapies delay the disease as compared with a placebo.

According to Novartis, early in the course of Alzheimer's disease, amyloid buildup in the brain is evident and is thought to be a key factor in driving the subsequent progressive damage and clinical symptoms in Alzheimer's disease.

The trial will include immunotherapy aimed at triggering the body's immune system to produce antibodies that attack different forms of the amyloid protein and an oral medication designed to prevent the production of different forms of the amyloid protein.

Liss said the trial will include people with Alzheimer's and those who have the genetic makeup making it highly likely they will get it.

According to Alzheimer's Disease International, there are 44 million people worldwide with dementia, with about 50-60 percent caused by Alzherimer's disease. That number is expected to triple by 2050.

Liss described Alzheimer's disease as a gradual loss of brain cells that most notably affects the areas of the brain where memory is stored. It is estimated to affect about 10 percent of the population above the age of 65 and more than 30 percent of the population above 85. Patients often have symptoms before being formally diagnosed.

Liss said Alzheimer's disease is just one form of dementia. "Not all dementia is Alzheimer's disease. Not all memory loss is a sign of Alzheimer's disease," he said.

There are three levels of the illness. Those are mild, moderate and severe Alzheimer's disease.

Liss said with mild Alzheimer's disease, a person may get lost more easily, have increasing difficulties with complex tasks such as cooking and bill paying and may repeat questions and stories.

With moderate Alzheimer's disease, a person may have confusion about recent conversations, wander and hear or see things that are not present.

With severe Alzheimer's disease, a person has trouble recognizing friends or family, needs help with personal care and may not recognize themselves in a mirror.

In a booklet Liss wrote, "Living Well: A Guide for Preserving Independence With Senior Moments, Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer's Disease," Liss gives tips for protecting brain cells.

Those include keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control. He says to exercise regularly and don't smoke.

For healthy brain cells, he suggests mind exercises, such as working puzzles, learning a language or doing mechanical work, such as taking apart and assembling a bicycle or watch.

For more information on the research locally, call 706-653-8455. For more information on the Alzheimer's prevention registry, visit www.endALZnow.org.