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Drugs, scans and genes: An Alzheimer's research conference

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Thousands of researchers are converging in Boston to fight Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association is holding a major international research conference.

The researchers, and their supporters at the association, are trying to push Congress to increase dementia research funding by at least $100 million.

Some of the researchers at the conference are talking about efforts to develop new Alzheimer’s drugs. Corinne Augelli-Szafran, for example, talked at the conference about efforts to attack gamma-secretase, a chemical that might help another substance, beta amyloid, gum up brain cells.

Dorene Rentz talked about efforts to compare results from two brain scans — one showing how the brain uses sugar, and another that measures the amount of beta amyloid slime fouling the brain — with results on traditional memory tests.

The researchers found that people with worse memory performance tended to have more beta amyloid slime, and had brains that were slower to use sugar.

The research suggests that people who do poorly both on memory tests and the brain scans might be at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, the association said in a summary of conference events.

Still another researcher, Richard Sherva, talked about a project to find genes associated with the rate of Alzheimer’s decline.

The team has found four genes that don’t seem to have much to do with whether an individual will develop Alzheimer’s disease but does seem to correlate with how quickly an individual who does have Alzheimer’s will develop severe symptoms, the association said.

One of the genes, SPON1, has to do with production of beta amyloid slime and brain cell connectivity.

The Alzheimer’s Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also are trying to get more attention for their “healthy brain” “road map.”

A large panel of experts helped the association and the CDC develop the first version of the road map in 2007. In a new version of the road map, released today at the conference, one of the main “action items” is to “promote advance care planning and advance financial planning to care partners, families and individuals with dementia in the early stages, before function declines.”

In the road map, the authors noted that researchers in North Dakota found that a 6-month dementia care services project led to about $324,000 in health care savings, and “a doubling of the percent of caregivers who completed important dementia care-related tasks: establishing power of attorney; instituting health care directives; and acquiring long-term care insurance for their person with dementia.”

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