Eighteen million people worldwide are affected by Alzheimer's, and that number is expected to triple in the next 30 years. Complications from the disease are one of the leading causes of death in the elderly.
Now, researchers around the world are hoping an investigational drug will not only slow its progression, but reverse the disease.
Two-and-a-half years ago, 56-year-old Fred Ruekert was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a disease that took his father in his 60s and his brother at age 57. Fred's wife of more than 30 years says she saw the warning signs.
"There definitely was a shift in his personality that made it recognizable here," said Irene Ruekert.
Now, Fred Ruekert worries what the future holds, not just for him, but also for his six kids.
"If they could take my brain and take it apart and figure out what's wrong and cure everybody, that'd be great. I'd say, 'Take me now,'" he said.
Fred is part of a phase-three trial to test a therapeutic antibody designed to target and eliminate beta amyloid, an abnormal protein in the brain that is linked to Alzheimer's.
"This is the first line of medications which, potentially, can be a modifying agent, instead of medications we have right now available, which are more symptomatic treatments," said Milwaukee study investigator and Dr. Malgorzata Franczak, who has been treating Alzheimer's patients for more than a decade.
Although it is too soon to know what affect the new drug will have on the brain, Dr. Franczak is excited about the possibilities.
" Not only again [to] slow down the progression of the disease, but actually arrest the disease, stop the progression of the disease, or maybe reverse some of the changes which have already occurred in patient's brain," she said.
Irene Ruekert prays the drug will give her more time with her husband.
"If this one doesn't work, we'll look for the next one and find something that does. He's too young to have this happen?to be gone. And I want to grow old together, and that's what I want to have the opportunity to do with him," she said.
Researchers worldwide are recruiting more than 1,200 volunteers for the Alzheimer's drug trial. Patients must be between 50 and 88 years old and have a caregiver willing to participate in the study.