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Seeing Alzheimer's in the Mind's Eye, 20 Years in Advance

Neurosurgeon Keith Black at Google's Solve for X:


“We are facing a healthcare tsunami because of cognitive decline. A child born in the U.S. today has a 1 in 3 chance of living to 100. But without a cure, Alzheimer’s alone will bankrupt the healthcare system.”


“Alzheimer’s silently starts developing 20 years before the diagnosis. We wait for symptoms, and by then 50% of the brain cells are lost. But the Beta Amyloid protein develops in the brain 20 years before we become symptomatic. How can we detect that? PET scans are low resolution, expensive and radioactive. Spinal taps to get CNS fluid are invasive and unlikely to be a standard screen. What about the retina? It’s an extension of the brain embryonically. “


“Turmeric is an Indian spice rich in the protein curcumin. Curcumin binds to the toxic beta amyloid AB42 protein, and it is brightly fluorescent.”


And it works! He showed cadaver, then animal, then human trials.


“We should give this 20 minute non-invasive test to everyone over 50. Imagine you did not treat diabetes until you had kidney failure. It would be too late. We could start treatments earlier, and study the progression in clinical trials. Perhaps the GRAS (Generally Accepted as Safe) practices could make a difference if started earlier: turmeric, green tea, coffee, physical and mental exercises. Turmeric may be good as a therapy as well as a diagnostic. There is an lower incidence of Alzheimer’s in India, and so it warrants some study. If we can just slow the progression enough, perhaps the aging population could miss the clinical phase of the disease altogether.”

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Taken on February 7, 2013