Back in August 2014, we covered the Alzheimer’s epidemic that family caregivers and homecare companions are facing in San Diego. Alzheimer’s disease is the third leading cause of death in San Diego, making researching a cure a priority for our city as well as for humanity. San Diego is a national center of biotech and medical research, home as it is to UCSD, its Alzheimer’s Research Institute, and many cutting-edge medical research organizations. 2016 is starting out with great promise in the fight against Alzheimer’s in San Diego, with three new developments that bode well for San Diegans and all those who suffer with this terrible disease.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivered the 2016 State of the City address the evening of January 14th, and while it may have been overshadowed by State of the Union address, it was perhaps more important to San Diegans. Amidst great focus on the Chargers and their saga, the Mayor also reinforced the city’s pledge to be the place where the cure for Alzheimer’s is discovered. Mayor Faulconer said,

“And we’re positioning San Diego as the nation’s top medical research hub in the race to beat the third leading cause of death in the region – Alzheimer’s disease. Cooperation among local scientists, philanthropists and research institutes has already yielded promising breakthroughs that could end the scourge of Alzheimer’s. I’m proud to be a part of this regional effort – and harness the collaboration that is a part of San Diego’s DNA. San Diego will find a cure for Alzheimer’s!”

One of the jewels of the San Diego’s medical research hub is UCSD’s Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, which had a turbulent year in 2015. The then-director abruptly left for rival USC’s Alzheimer’s research facility, taking many contracts and all the research data with him. Despite the setback, UCSD has just appointed a new director to the program, Dr. Howard Feldman, a renowned Canadian neurologist whose nickname is the ‘master of dementia.’ As Dr. Feldman told the San Diego Union-Tribune regarding the current state of Alzheimer’s research,

“I think that our progress has been slower than we had hoped for. Alzheimer’s disease is more complicated than we may have appreciated over the past 2.5 decades. … This is an urgent health problem that is looming. [However, while] I don’t doubt that there are short-term challenges to address and resolve, … I think in the longer term, there’s an opportunity to create a new generation for [the program] and achieve excellence.”

The final building block for 2016 is a promising new trial organized by the same UCSD Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study that Dr. Feldman will be managing. Researchers have found anti-bodies that target beta-amyloid production at its origin, on chromosome 21. The trial is testing a vaccine that is meant to reduce accumulation of beta-amyloids in the brain without causing a larger immune system response. The Alzheimer’s researchers are working with the Down Syndrome Center for Research and Treatment as the trial will study 24 adults with Down syndrome between the ages of 35 and 45 over 24 months. Nearly all Down Syndrome individuals will display beta-amyloid neuropathology by the age of 40, and are three to five times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. According to trial organizers, this is the first test of an anti-amyloid immunotherapy treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in Down syndrome.