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Dr. Howard Fillit

1/21/16

Dr. Fillit heads up the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.  The sole purpose of this organization is to find effective drugs for Alzheimer’s disease.  The importance of this work is revealed by the statistic that 50% of those 80 years of age will have Alzheimer’s disease and twenty-four million baby boomers will suffer from it.  It is a disease of old age with an annual cost of 225 billion dollars that will bankrupt Medicare in ten years if not stemmed.  

Effective Alzheimer drugs are therefore urgently needed.  We don’t have any primarily because the disease’s widespread existence wasn’t recognized until late in the last century.  But intensive research since that time has allowed us to know as much about Alzheimer as we do about heart disease and cancer.  The current task is to translate this knowledge into chemistry. 

Unlike other body cells, which get regularly replaced, brain cells stay with us for our entire life.  Ageing exposes these cells to many risks that can damage them.  Some damage is inevitable, but our systems get rid of these damaged cells until old age prevents the disposal system from getting rid of damaged cells at the same rate they accumulate.  To a significant extent this results from the amount of systematic inflammation we experience as we age. Drugs are needed to reduce this inflammation.  But it takes 10-15 years to get a drug to market from the time it is first discovered. 

In the 1980s we discovered a way to determine if someone has Alzheimer.  This opened the door to the development of new drugs. Right now there are 120 clinical trials in the U.S. for such drugs.  Dr. Fillit’s foundation has funded about 20% of these.  We also discovered that the disease starts in middle age with the growth of inflammation in the brain.  But the inflammation is brain specific so we need drugs that fight brain specific inflammation and help the brain get rid of damaged cells.

There are a variety of approaches to this problem and trials are conducted to encompass this variety.  

To help prevent the advent of Alzheimer’s disease, we have found that anything that helps the heart usually helps with Alzheimer prevention.  This means keeping mentally active as well as getting plenty of exercise.  Also the drug DHA acts as an insulator of brain cells helping to protect them.  We don’t make DHA, but there is a type of algae that does and some companies have refined it into a pill, which can be helpful.

Q&A

Q.  Should we be testing ourselves for Alzheimer’s disease?

A.  It depends on what you want to know and what you are prepared to do about it.  It may guide you into a clinical trial.

Q.  How do you distinguish your organization from the many others asking for support?

A.  Ours is the only one that focuses entirely on developing drugs with 100% of the money going to this research.

Q.  Do you also look into illegal drug fields?

A.  Marijuana affects the brain, but research is done on these drugs when we can eliminate their psychotropic effects.  Some do have anti-inflammatory properties.

Q.  Where do you get DHA?

A.  You can get it from Amazon.  You look for Algal 900 DHA.

Q.  Downs Syndrome people get Alzheimer’s disease at a 100% rate.  What do you make of this?

A.  That is genetic, which makes up a tiny percentage of the disease.