The nature and future of Alzheimer’s disease

Professor Emeritus Danton O'Day
Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 2:31pm
Sharon Aschaiek

The personal and global impacts of Alzheimer’s disease and the efforts to find a cure for this frightening form of dementia are the subject of a comprehensive new book by a University of Toronto Mississauga professor.

The Alzheimer’s Epidemic: Searching for Causes and a Cure is a newly published eBook by Dr. Danton H. O’Day, PhD, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biology at UTM and in the Department of Cell & Systems Biology at the St. George campus. The 260-page book covers the types and characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease, the research being performed to understand it, and the progress in discovering treatments and cures.

While most books about the disease deal with its symptoms and how to care for those affected, O’Day’s takes a different tack by looking at how it manifests in the brain, and what biomedical researchers are doing to slow, stop and ultimately cure it. The content is gleaned from current international research and from O’Day’s own experience as a cell biologist who has studied the proteins linked to the earliest stages of the disease.

“This book can be of value to anyone who wants to learn more about the disease and what the future holds,” said O’Day in an interview. “It is about the research that is being done, and how it will one day reveal the causes and lead to a cure.”

Given the increasing rates of diagnosis of dementia worldwide, and the growing toll it is taking on care-giving families, health care systems and economies worldwide, the book is a timely one. The Alzheimer Society of Canada reports that 747,000 Canadians live with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and that number will double to 1.4 million by 2013. According to the organization, the cost of dementia, in terms of direct medical expenses and indirect lost employment earnings, is $33 billion per year, and by 2040, that figure will hit $293 billion per year.

Worldwide, 24 million people worldwide have the disease, according to the U.S.-based Alzheimer Association. Alzheimer’s Disease International reports there are an estimated 35.6 million people with dementia worldwide, and that number will nearly double every 20 years. In 2010, the total estimated worldwide cost of dementia in 2010 was $604 billion (USD), an amount that includes unpaid care by family members and others and direct social and medical expenses.

“If you just look at the numbers from today’s perspective, the economic drain on society could be overwhelming. The emotional costs to families and their caregivers, not to mention the person with the disease, will be equally devastating,” O’Day said.

With 16 chapters featuring more than 100 original color figures, O’Day’s book, which is also available in soft-cover and hard-cover formats, provides answers to a variety of questions about the scientific aspects of the disease, including: How does the disease progress? What are plaque and tangles? What genes are involved? How can biomarkers help? And, which pharmaceuticals offer hope? The book is accompanied by a website full of free resources, such as PowerPoint slides with tables and figures from the book and informational videos.

“We are at the stage cancer research was a decade or two ago...Like cancer, many consider Alzheimer’s disease to be a syndrome rather than a single disease—this makes the search for the causes and a cure more difficult than for those diseases that are caused by a single gene,” O’Day said. “The good news is that the new technologies and scientific approaches are going to lead to major breakthroughs over the next few years.”