Families, doctors hopeful after news of new drug to slow progression of Alzheimer’s

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 4:42 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Families of loved ones living with a deadly brain disease, that has no cure, have spent the last 24 hours researching and feeling cautious optimism.

Action 2 News first reported Monday the big news from the FDA after it approved the first drug believed to actually slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

RELATED: FDA approves much-debated Alzheimer’s drug panned by experts

Amid hope and growing excitement, there are also questions from doctors and families, like Walt Zerrenner.

When Walt heard the FDA approved the first drug in 20 years targeting Alzheimer’s, and the first to slow its progress, he couldn’t help but get a little excited.

“With a growing baby boomer population and more people turning 65 every day, they say one in nine is going to have some form of dementia. That’s a staggering number,” says Walt. “So if this works, it will be a big plus.”

We’ve talked with Walt many times over the years as he’s become the caregiver for his wife, Aline, the last 14 years as she’s advanced through the stages of Alzheimer’s.

“She still recognizes me. She still has that smile, still has a sense of humor. She forgets everything. Of course, that’s part of the Alzheimer’s,” he says, laughing. Walt seems to always have a good sense of humor about it all, too.

After waiting so long for a breakthrough, thinking researchers had abandoned even trying after 20 years of no new drugs, he is cautiously optimistic about the new medication, Aducanumab.

Aline is too advanced for it to be tried on her, but Walt holds out hope for others just starting their journey.

“This is I think, a little exciting because it kind of came out of nowhere,” he says, referring to how long research takes.

“I think it’s hope,” says Dr. Nathaniel Chin, geriatrician and UW Memory Program medical director, including the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention Study. “I think this is really just the first step of new opportunities and new things for people.”

Dr. Chin moved to Wisconsin six years ago to help care for his father after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, then entrenched himself in research.

“Some people might say they feel helpless. I felt motivated that there must be something I can do,” he says.

Dr. Chin says this new drug is not a cure and doesn’t stop Alzheimer’s, but studies showed it slowed the progression in 22 percent of people who took it over 18 months.

“It goes into the brain. It attaches to what’s called an amyloid protein, and then it removes it. Amyloid is the first of two proteins that develop in Alzheimer’s,” he explains.

Dr. Chin says it’s taken relentless research to even get this far, but he sees this as just the beginning.

Still, he, like Walt, has a lot of questions, including how much it will cost and how do you know it’s working?

“Do people actually stabilize or slow compared to people not? I think that’s an important part of this is that there’s still more studies based on this approval,” says Dr. Chin.

“I’m hoping that it is good. I really hope, because it is such a huge breakthrough in a way,” adds Walt.

Dr. Chin say this is already opening doors to lots of other studies on more Alzheimer’s medications.

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