Q&A

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Sanjay Asthana

Geriatrics / UW School of Medicine and Public Health/VA Hospital

 

Why are you interested in Alzheimer’s research?
I lost my father to Alzheimer’s, and I saw him suffer for more than eighteen years. I saw him go through all the stages of the disease, right from very mild memory loss all the way to his death. My father and my mother were role models for me and I noticed all the struggles they went through as older patients. It still drives me.

What are some innovations happening in Madison?
This center is unique in focusing on pre-symptomatic phases of Alzheimer’s. During this stage—when there is not enough damage in the brain to cause symptoms—if we can find an effective treatment, we can stop the disease right there. It’s like preventing, if you will, Alzheimer’s. One day hopefully we’ll have a cure.

What are some advances?
We give antibodies that target the abnormal protein in the brain called amyloid protein. Almost all patients with Alzheimer’s have the protein deposited in their brain, which we think is one of the major reasons why they develop Alzheimer’s. These abnormal proteins kill brain cells, and eventually you have memory problems. These antibodies attack and dissolve the proteins. There’s some evidence coming in that these antibodies can clear the brain from this abnormal protein over time. The big question is, when you clear the brain of this amyloid protein, will it result in an improvement of symptoms?

Another area of research for which we are very well known is special brain scans that will pick up amyloid protein and some other changes in the brain that we know take place as we follow the disease. The third area is treatment. We are trying to find out if [statin] drugs can be useful in Alzheimer’s disease, especially during the pre-symptomatic phase. My own interest is in hormone treatment. 

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