The National Institutes of Health estimates 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease. There's no therapeutic way to slow or prevent the disease… yet. One researcher's remarkable discovery could lead to doctors using existing drugs to treat Alzheimer's.
Today, Kristina Short is reading a story about Ellen DeGeneres to her mom.
Her mother, Bobbie Heldt has Alzheimer's disease, accelerated by a bad fall six years ago.
"We've had a very nice life together and the kids are just perfect children," Heldt said.
They help Heldt live her best life, but it's been tough for her husband and six children to watch her decline.
"We've all had to adjust to a new person, my mom… and I still miss my old mom. It's probably the hardest part," Short said.
Jerold Chun, MD, PhD, professor and senior vice president at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, and his team's research shows that the brain recombines or mis-shuffles DNA in Alzheimer's patients, creating thousands of new gene variations.
"We believe that is the process which hasn't been recognized before, that could give rise over time to the most common form of Alzheimer's disease," Chun said.
The Alzheimer's gene, APP, is recombined by an enzyme found in HIV called reverse transcriptase. HIV patients have been taking FDA-approved inhibitors to stop the virus from replicating itself for years. Chun wants to see if Alzheimer's patients could get the same benefit.
"This mechanism could extend beyond Alzheimer's disease and actually be relevant to a number of other types of brain disorders," Chun said.
Chun wants to begin trials testing the drugs with Alzheimer's patients right away.
In his research, Chun has found that virtually no HIV patients who'd been taking medications that include the reverse transcriptase inhibitors developed Alzheimer's. He believes the HIV drugs could prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer's.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.