The latest in a recent spate of books and movies that have brought Alzheimer’s to a broader public, a new NOVA documentary ow explores what it takes to go from basic research to treatment trials. In her film “Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?” three-time Emmy award and AAAS Science Journalism award-winning producer Sarah Holt tells the story of Alzheimer’s research. Her film conveys the challenges and staggering cost of research and personalizes the emotional toll Alzheimer’s takes on patients, caregivers, and even researchers. Above all, it shows how AD therapy development is inching forward incrementally, drawing lessons from each negative trial.
Journalist Greg O’Brien struggles to make calls on his cell phone and labels his mouthwash to avoid gargling with rubbing alcohol. Diagnosed at age 64, he chronicles his own decline. He makes no bones about the terror of knowing what lies ahead. “Alzheimer’s is like having a little slice of your brain shaved off every day,” he says. Other patients are unable to recall where they are from, how many kids they have, or to name everyday objects. Unsparing but tactful, the camera captures more advanced, bedridden patients staring vacantly into space, while families in Medellin, Colombia, care for mute relatives stricken with an inherited form of the disease in their 40s.
From Alois Alzheimer’s initial description of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles to the latest clinical trials, Holt narrates the arc of Alzheimer’s research through the voices of leading researchers. A young Alison Goate describes the discovery of APP mutations with John Hardy. Francisco Lopera explains how he and Ken Kosik found the world’s largest kindred with autosomal dominant disease. Eric Reiman articulates the opportunity autosomal-dominant Alzheimer’s present for prevention trials.
Rudy Tanzi explains concerns about vasogenic edema. Reisa Sperling and Keith Johnson interpret tau PET scans. Ryan Watts, Carole Ho and colleagues formerly at Genentech are seen nervously awaiting the outcome of a clinical trial and trying to make sense of ambiguous data. Standing next to a trial participant with early stage AD, Steve Salloway explains that even halting the disease temporarily would be a good outcome for many people. At AAIC in Copenhagen, the camera catches the disappointment on the faces of many scientists well-known to Alzforum readers—including Rusty Katz, Maria Carrillo, Veronika Logovinsky—when Jeff Cummings announces negative trial data for crenezumab.
In eschewing both critical scientific debates and specific advocacy positions, the film strikes a neutral tone as it portrays Alzheimer’s staggering toll and the progress research has made.—Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib