TODAY   |  September 04, 2013

New focus for Alzheimer’s research: Prevention

While scientists have struggled to find a real therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, a new trend focuses on earlier prevention, with a first prevention trial underway. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> million americans are living with alzheimer 's and today, encouragingly, a lot of the research across the country is focussing on stopping this disease in it's tracks before symptoms even appear.

>> alzheimer's disease first attacks the areas of the brain that are most highly developed and it eventually effects all of the brain regions .

>> reporter: it's characterized by a build up of proteins in the brains. an excess call plaques and tangles that kill healthy nerve cells. drug researchers targeting the proteins had limited success.

>> we don't really have any truly effective therapy for alzheimer 's but we have started to do the very first prevention trials.

>> all the way up.

>> dr. john morris at washington university st. louis says the new trend is to focus on early intervention. his team is studying over 100 families worldwide with a rare genetic mu tigs that predisposes them to early on set alzheimer 's. some are given meditations preemptively before trouble begins.

>> never before have people that don't have the symptoms of allianz timers disease been given medications.

>> reporter: at the mayo clinic in minnesota another approach. dr. ronald peterson studies individual with mild cognitive impairment. a prealzheimer's condition where people lose some memory but still function. patients undergo numerous tests including brain scans.

>> the primary question we were asking with the study of aging is can we predict who is going to develop alzheimer's disease .

>> he wants to develop a risk prediction tool similar to the one used for heart disease in order to classify those at risk and then determine who is eligible for early intervention drugs.

>> much like we treat hypertension these days with multiple different drugs, at the end of the day in alzheimer's disease we may use a combination of medications to treat the disease process.

>> reporter: but not all trends in alzheimer 's research are focused on medications. scientists at northwestern university are studying a group of healthy 80 and 90 years old with impeccable memory. they're called super agers and researchers believe their brains and life styles may hold important clues to robust aging.

>> how can we use what is going right and try to emulate that or find factors to help solve the alzheimer 's problem.

>> while there is no cure for alzheimer 's, the race is going to be to find drugs that can prevent or slow the disease and i personally think, genetics, life style and weaving those two together will open up all kinds of doors for us.

>> a lot to think about.