The Challenge of Alzheimer′s Disease | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 01.04.2013
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The Challenge of Alzheimer's Disease

Psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Peters of Berlin's Charité University Hospital joins us in the studio to discuss new approaches to treating Alzheimer's.

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Joining us in the studio to talk about combatting Alzheimer's disease is Dr. Oliver Peters from the Charité Hospital here in Berlin. Welcome to the show and thanks for joining us.
We saw in that report that there's a bit of a controversy over whether it's the tangles or the plaques that are more responsible for causing Alzheimer’s disease. Which is it in your opinion?

Oliver Peters:
From my point of view, nobody knows up to now. They are both mechanisms which are obviously important, and to me as a clinician it doesn't matter. I just want to cure the people.

So the main point is to cure the people. Now you yourself have a vaccine out which is actually to fight against one of the proteins. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how it works?

There are two different ways of vaccine - the active immunization and the passive immunization. There's a little difference in the how you apply them to the patients, but in the end you it has the same result... you can remove the plaques from the brain and that might cure Alzheimer's.

But you can't completely remove it - it's not a curable disease.

No, you can remove the plaques, but it doesn't cure the disease until now. This is what we experienced within the last years; we applied the immunization to very late stages of the disease and we failed to have any success. Now we are trying to apply the immunization to very early stages of the disease and we will see what happens.

Do you think that by treating an Alzheimer's disease earlier you can actually fend it off for longer?

Yes, that is the hope that we have. We are trying to diagnose Alzheimer's very early by examining the cerebrospinal fluid, which is the water in the brain, and there we can detect special proteins and then we can make the diagnosis much earlier than we did years ago.

What about the risks involved in medications for Alzheimer's?

We know of some risks that appeared in the early phase of the immunization trials, but nowadays there are no risks that we couldn't - that we know of.

OK, are we born with Alzheimer's? We saw in the report that a six year old had these tangles in his or her brain. Or is it something that develops in childhood? When does it start?

We don't know that. There was a report that similar changes can be detected very, very early, but that doesn't mean that Alzheimer's starts in children.

But do you find that it runs in families, for example?

This is true, there is a very rare disease, the genetic variant of Alzheimer's disease. But we are talking about sporadic Alzheimer's, and this is different.

Well, you're a doctor dealing with dementia every day. Briefly, what can you do to help patients?

We do have drugs that help the people today. They are symptomatic drugs, symptomic treatment, which improves memory and which should be applied, should be offered to the patients.

Well, dementia is set to double within the next generation, so let's hope we find some answers really soon. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Peters.