Azerbaijan International

Summer 2001 (9.2)
Page 10

Reader's Forum
Alzheimer's Project

I'd like to tell your readers about a new joint collaboration between the United States and Azerbaijan for the research of Alzheimer's disease. This degenerative brain disease is still quite a mystery to medical science and cannot even be diagnosed in every case. At first, the disease's destruction of brain cells causes a person to forget recent events or familiar tasks. Eventually, it causes confusion, personality and behavior changes and impaired judgment. Communication becomes difficult as the affected person struggles to find words, finish thoughts or follow directions. Most Alzheimer's patients eventually become unable to care for themselves.

No one knows exactly what causes Alzheimer's disease. Understanding its underlying mechanisms will provide the basis for advances in all other areas of research, including diagnosis, treatment, prevention and care.

How many people are affected by Alzheimer's disease? In the United States, for example, one in every 10 persons over the age of 65 and nearly half of those over 85 has Alzheimer's disease. Today, 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. Unless a cure or means of prevention is found, that number is expected to jump to 14 million by the year 2050. Worldwide, it is estimated that 22 million individuals will develop Alzheimer's disease by the year 2025. This disease affects caregivers, too. In a national survey in the United States, 19 million Americans said they have a family member with Alzheimer's disease, and 37 million said they knew someone with the disease.

What is being done to find a cure or help with prevention? Alzheimer's research is being tackled from many angles. Pharmaceutical companies, the U.S. federal government and the Alzheimer's Association are funding research to learn more about the disease process and find compounds for treatment.

My own work at the Laboratory of Electron Microscopy at Case Western Reserve University has led to the discovery of some possible major mechanisms in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Much has been learned this last year alone, as researchers have been able to narrow down some of its risk factors. Genetics seems to play a role, which may explain why Azerbaijanis are at major risk for the disease - a large number of Azerbaijanis intermarry with blood relatives. Other contributing factors in Azerbaijan include a diet full of saturated fat from meat products (such as lamb) and a large amount of the population affected by cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.

As a result of our research in Cleveland, we have been able to develop new techniques that enable brain imaging by use of a simple injection of special drugs via intra-nasal passages, which can be used for diagnostic and treatment purposes.

Hopefully this basic research will facilitate future studies into the clinical and pathological features of the development of Alzheimer's disease in a study we are conducting in Azerbaijan. Scientific collaboration has already begun with the Azerbaijan Medical University under the direction of Dr. Eldar Gasimov, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Cytology, Histology and Embryology.

I am the author of more than 150 scientific papers and abstracts, plus a book in the field of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases including Alzheimer's. In addition, six papers with my Azerbaijani collaborator have already been accepted for publication in internationally recognized scientific journals in the field of Alzheimer's study. The summary of this work will be presented at the 31st World Neuroscience Congress in San Diego (November 2001).

It's no coincidence that I have chosen to become involved with Azerbaijanis in this endeavor. Azerbaijan is my homeland, and Professor Gasimov was one of my former teachers at Azerbaijan Medical University. Today I am a U.S. citizen and make my home in Ohio.

I believe it is very important for Azerbaijan to connect with the international community on scientific projects like this one. We Azerbaijanis living abroad can make invaluable links with our colleagues back home in facilitating such worthy collaborations and studies.

In this case, we hope our research will open a new window for future studies into the causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure of this devastating disease. Not only do Azerbaijanis and their families afflicted with this disease stand to benefit, but we hope many victims of this illness all over the world may be helped, too.

Gumrah Aliyev, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Research Investigator / Director of the Electron Microscopy Center
Department of Anatomy and Neurology
Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine
Cleveland, Ohio

From Azerbaijan International (9.2) Summer 2001.
© Azerbaijan International 2001. All rights reserved.

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