Women Who Inspire: Dr. Reisa Sperling
neurologist, leading Alzheimer's researcher, professor at Harvard Medical School

As a treating neurologist, I see patients in the clinic. It helps keep me grounded in the realities of dementia and the fact that we must find a way to stop this disease from affecting millions of more people. It robs people of what they have worked all their life to do.

When I was in medical school, we lost my grandfather to Alzheimer's in just a few short years—even though he lived almost another decade. Once you see that you become very motivated to do something to stop this disease. I swore that by the time my dad reached the age of my grandfather, we would have a cure. Unfortunately, my dad was diagnosed last year.

But I am more hopeful than I have ever been in my career. I am convinced that we have potential disease modifying treatments for Alzheimer’s disease in the test tubes right now, and that starting these treatments at much earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease will give us a chance to prevent further memory loss.

In leading the A4 (Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s Disease) prevention trial, I feel a new sense of hope. It's the first clinical trial designed to prevent memory loss by identifying individuals that have the earliest changes of Alzheimer's disease in their brain but don't yet have any evidence of symptoms.

Funding from the Alzheimer's Association is allowing us to make this already powerful study even more powerful with the addition of LEARN (Longitudinal Evaluation of Amyloid Risk and Neurodegeneration), a companion study that will help our understanding of why individuals differ in their rates of mental decline when developing Alzheimer's. Ultimately, the goal is to facilitate the development of treatments and prevention strategies.

For the A4 trial, and the many other studies currently recruiting, we need participants. Unfortunately, slow enrollment in clinical trials is the bottleneck for Alzheimer’s clinical research. People need to volunteer, not just for themselves, but for their children and their grandchildren. We need everyone’s help in order to make Alzheimer’s disease a preventable illness. Learn more.

Alzheimer’s affects women at a disproportionate rate. At any given age, women are nearly two times as likely to develop the disease. And even if a woman is able to evade dementia clinically, she is very likely to serve as a caregiver for someone with the disease at some point in her lifetime.

From a research standpoint, we need to find out why women are at a higher risk. And from an activism standpoint, we need women to stand up and fight. Through causes like breast cancer and childhood violence, we have seen what women can do with political might. I hope women will continue to step up and take on Alzheimer’s disease as a critical issue for all women.

Reisa Sperling, M.D., is director of the Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the Director of the Neuroimaging Core at the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) at Massachusetts General Hospital, and primary investigator of the groundbreaking A4 study.

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