There is a large, extended family in Antioquia, Colombia that has a genetic mutation causing Alzheimer’s disease in half of their offspring. Those affected are coming down with Alzheimer’s in their mid-40s. With this discovered population of people who are likely to develop the disease, American researchers are testing therapies on them years before they show symptoms. The ultimate goal is to find a treatment that might be able to prevent Alzheimer’s.
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There are three American organizations behind the multi-million dollar study in Colombia: The nonprofit Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, the National Institutes of Health, and the drug company Genentech headquartered in San Francisco (acquired by Roche for $48.6 billion in 2009). Researcher Dr. Claudia Kawas of the University of California, Irvine, who has been studying Alzheimer’s for over 30 years without a breakthrough, says the Colombian family study is a rare opportunity. “If it makes a difference for them, I think there’s a reasonable chance to could make a difference for all the rest of the people who get Alzheimer’s disease.” Dr. Kawas and members of the Colombian family sat down with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes which airs Sundays at 7:30pm on CBS.