Seedlings Of Hope For Alzheimer's Patients

For the first time, scientists are targeting what they believe may be a root cause of Alzheimer's: brain damage from clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid.

New drugs are testing three approaches: enzyme blockers to stop the amyloid from forming; a drug called Alzemed to stop the amyloid from clumping and vaccines to help the immune system clean up the amyloid, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports.

"We could be quite close to slowing or stopping the progression of disease," said Dr. Paul Aisen of Georgetown University said.

Ninety-year-old Mary McGoldrick is enrolled in a clinical trial for Alzehmed. She thinks it's working but researchers announced Monday they won't have conclusive results of this highly anticipated trial for another few weeks.

"I don't like not being able to remember what I'm supposed to do and it makes me mad," McGoldrick said.

There's other promising news: Improvements have been made in diagnosing the disease through brain scans and blood tests.

"Early diagnosis matters a lot because you want to catch the disease before it destroys brain cells," said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke Medical Center.

Doctors believe they will one day approach Alzheimer's the way they do heart disease — by identifying who is at risk and prescribing drugs and lifestyle changes to keep them healthy.

"We are very close to doing for the brain what we are already doing for the heart," said Doraiswamy.

This disease runs in McGoldrick's family.

There are about three dozen Alzheimer's drugs in the development pipeline.

Even if Alzemed is not the answer, she hopes one of the others will make her the last generation to struggle with this devastating disease.