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Alzheimer's Breakthrough Gives Hope To Millions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There is a possible breakthrough in Alzheimer's research as scientists believe they have isolated and may even be able to alter the gene responsible for the devastating disease.

Every 65 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer's, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports.

When it happened to Judy Highfield, her family like so many others was desperate for a breakthrough.

"We thought maybe the pills would make a miracle and things would go away and things go back to normal," her husband Larry Highfield said.

Sadly, that was not the case and Judy lost her battle ten years after it began.

What's happening at a California lab now could change the typical course of this degenerative illness. Dr. Yadong Huang and his team at Gladstone Institutes are looking at a gene they believe increases the risk for developing Alzheimer's.

It's called Apo-E4. Anyone who carries one copy of it can increase their risk of developing Alzheimer's three to four fold.

Gene tied to Alzheimer's disease (Credit: CBS2)

If you inherit two copies of the gene, researchers say your risk of developing of it jumps 15 times.

They have also determined that six out of ten patients have this gene. Now they're working on a medication that could alter the gene so it has a lower chance of leading to Alzheimer's.

"The structure corrector rescued the human brain cells from this Alzheimer's disease related pathology," Dr. Huang said.

"This is a potentially very exciting thing in Alzheimer's research," Dr. Thomas Kreibich added.

Dr. Kreibich is a neurologist with Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck. He says the discovery may one day help delay the onset of dementia or potentially help people avoid it altogether.

"One of the take away messages is that it has been rather disappointing over the past 20 years or so in terms of potential therapies that have gone through clinical trials and you know we always have to try and have hope," Kreibich explained.

"There are so many millions of Americans who have dementia and who are going to develop dementia especially with an aging population that research studies like this give hope of new and exciting avenues moving forward."

Doctor Huang and his team made the discovery by experimenting on human stem cells, given to them by Alzheimer's patients. While a major breakthrough, this research is still very much in its infancy.

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