Dr. Gary Small and fellow researchers have developed brain-imaging technology for early detection and treatment of changes associated with Alzheimer's.
Research aims to diagnose Alzheimer's
Detection is the first step toward treatment, a UCLA doctor says
» Alzheimer's group hosts free workshop
Dr. Gary Small foresees the day when a person can go to the doctor for a "brain check" and get medicine to prevent or lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
"I'm very optimistic about the future," one of the world's leading authorities on memory and longevity said in an interview here.
"I think we will find treatments for mild conditions and people will have less of a stigma about getting help and we'll be able to protect the brain before there's extensive damage, at the onset of Alzheimer's, and stave it off."
Director of the University of California Los Angeles Center on Aging and Memory Clinic, Small and fellow researchers have developed brain-imaging technology "to peek into the brain" for early detection and treatment of changes associated with Alzheimer's.
They found that abnormal proteins, known as "amyloid plaques" and "tangles," build up in the brain as early signs of the disease.
Studies using Positron Emitting Tomograpy scans and a radioactive compound invented by the group's lead chemist showed the chemical binds to abnormal protein plaques, he said.
Injecting it into volunteers for brain scanning, they were able to differentiate those with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease from those who were healthy, Small said.
In follow-up studies on some patients, he said, "We found as the clinical disease worsened, the protein-binding signal increased on the scanner." Doctors previously were only able to see the brain's abnormal proteins in an autopsy, Small said.
UCLA patented the technique and licensed it to Siemen's, a Germany-based technology company, he said. The company is seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for clinical studies and eventually Medicare approval, he said.
The distinguished researcher, author and lecturer said he generally practices what he preaches in his best-sellers for healthy brain aging: The Memory Bible," "The Memory Prescription" and "The Longevity Bible."
His usual breakfast is his own invention, he said -- a piece of sourdough toast with low-fat cheddar cheese, a fried egg white and natural fruit jam on top. He calls it a "brain-healthy egg McMuffin."
A knee injury about three years ago led him into aerobic conditioning on an elliptical machine and he's in better shape today than 10 or 15 years ago, he said.
He also loves to walk with his labradoodle, wife and children, a daughter, 15, and son, 13, he said.
His tip for a long life: "Take a 10-minute walk every day with someone you care about."
The cardiovascular conditioning could lower risk for Alzheimer's disease, reduce stress, improve blood pressure and possibly reduce medications, he said. "It will also improve your relationship with your walking partner."
Small developed the Handheld Brain and Memory Fitness Trainer with five exercise games to improve memory and brain efficiency. He also created Mattel Toy Co.'s Brain Games.
He is excited about developments to keep aging people vital with prevention and treatment of cognitive brain impairments and Alzheimer's disease. There is also hope in prevention strategies, he said.
"Aging is not all bad," the expert added, recommending a positive attitude, exercise, a healthy diet and meaningful activities.
He and his wife, Gigi Vorgan, are collaborating on their fifth book, looking at how new technology affects the brain. "It has a major impact," he said.
Alzheimer's group hosts free workshop
The Alzheimer's Association Aloha Chapter will hold a free community workshop from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. July 17 to help adults "live a brain-healthy lifestyle" and reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Janet Eli, president and chief executive officer of the Aloha Chapter, said the public has been asking for guidance on what they can do to keep their brains healthy since the association launched its Maintain Your Brain campaign.
"Our new research-based workshop encourages people to maintain their brain health by staying physically and mentally active, eating a brain-healthy diet and remaining socially involved," she said.
The workshop will feature nutritional and lifestyle advice, strategies to keep memory sharp, exercises, activities and materials to take home.
Eli said participants -- especially baby boomers -- will be introduced to "scientifically rooted advice on brain health based on strong lifestyle choices."
They include challenging mental activities, social interactions, a brain-healthy diet and remaining physically active.
For more information or to register for the workshop, call 591-2771 or visit www.alzhi.org.