A hundred years ago, the psychiatrist and brain researcher described the first patient with a severe dementia accompanied by the massive loss of nerve cells (neurons). At that time, the disease later named after him was still rare. Alzheimer saw only two cases in his research career, as Dr. Christian Haass, Professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, Germany, said during the International Conference on Neurodegenerative Diseases held in the Max Delbrück Communications Center (MDC.C) in Berlin.

Today, according to Dr. Haass, alone in Germany approximately 1.2 million people suffer from Alzheimer's disease. In the European Union, there are around 5 million people with dementia, of whom 60 - 70 percent are Alzheimer's patients. Around 4.5 million Alzheimer's patients live in the United States.

With people's life expectancy rising, scientists fear that the number of dementia and Alzheimer's patients will double in the next 25 years if the disease cannot be successfully treated or prevented. In 1985, scientists were able to identify the insoluble deposits in the brain as amyloid-beta plaques. In recent years, scientists have gained increasing insight into the molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease which they hope will provide attack points for a targeted, causative treatment of this presently incurable disease.

The severe degenerative disorder of the brain in which people slowly lose their memory, their spatial orientation, their language, and the control over their body functions brings great suffering to Alzheimer's victims and their families, who often care for the patients for years. The cost of providing care for Alzheimer's patients is spiraling to billions of euros and dollars for the healthcare systems.

Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
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