ECU's alzheimer's research showing promise

GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) You may know someone with alzheimer's disease, or other forms of dementia. Millions of Americans are living with alzheimer's, and that number is expected to keep rising. But researchers right here in the east are working to change that and what they're doing at the Wooten Lab at ECU could lead to a cure.

At 93 there's no doubt Doris Gardner has lived a full life.

Pictures from decades ago show happy times with her husband of more than 60-years. Pictures on the walls today show a loving family, others of her precious great grandson. But behind the happy smile is a sad reality. Alzheimer's disease is robbing Doris of her memory.

Her granddaughter Amanda Stocks says, "It's almost like she's gone back to infant stage. She can't be left alone. She's got to constantly have care."

And it's Amanda and her husband Josh who provide it. Josh says, It's very emotional. It's extremely emotional because the person you're caring for is overly emotional."

Doris is just one of 6 million people in the U.S. living with alzheimer's. That number is only expected to double in the next few decades.

But there is hope for finding treatment or even a possible cure to alzheimer's and it's happening at the Wooten Lab at ECU.

Dr. Qun Lu is the director of the lab and says, "What is the underlying basis for alzheimer's disease and how can we develop medicine to treat alzheimer's disease and senior dementia."

Existing research has yet to come up with a cure, so the work Dr. Lu is leading is looking at other possible causes of alzheimer's, and treatment. What they've discovered is that inflammation in the brain, perhaps from infections or viruses, could play a role.

The research started with 200,000 possible compounds to study. That list is now down to 20, with a handful being tested so far, showing promising results in animal studies.

Dr. Lu says, "I'm excited about our strategy because our small molecules is the first of its kind in the world to actually be able to modulate the brain inflammation process."

While there is much work to be done, Dr. Lu is optimistic it could lead to clinical trials.

Dr. Lu says, "This is the first time we have discovered it's common to have this ability and we have not seen any of this kind in the field of alzheimer disease research. So that's very exciting."

The potential for a treatment breakthrough is encouraging for families like the Stocks. Amanda says, "It would be a lot of relief on families and the patient."

Dr. Lu says, "It is the mission of our medical scientists, our researchers to find the cure and or find the medicine to stop or slow the disease. We're very excited about that and very hopeful for that."

Only a handul of compounds have been tested so far because the research all costs money.

The good news is the organization ALZ NC, which is now Dementia Alliance of NC, has provided $100,000 in grant money in recent years.

Alzheimer's walks in the east have also provided funds for the Wooten Lab, like the one that takes place in Washington every year. That walk has donated $31,000 so far.