Catalyst: Arizona is a hot spot for research on Alzheimer’s disease

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More than 3,000 people die from Alzheimer’s disease every year, and that’s according to the Center for Disease Control. Arizona also has a high percentage of people over the age of 65. Tonight on Catalyst, we learn why Arizona is becoming a hotbed of Alzheimer’s research.

Stopping Alzheimer’s disease means saving lives, but treating and slowing the disease means victims can live better lives before they die. We’re lucky to have two things going in our state: a strong commitment to research and medicine and volunteers.

Ted Simons: MORE THAN 3,000 PEOPLE IN ARIZONA DIE FROM ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE EVERY YEAR, THAT'S ACCORDING TO THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL. ARIZONA ALSO HAS A HIGH PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE OVER THE AGE OF 65. AND TONIGHT ON "CATALYST," WHY ARIZONA IS BECOMING A HOT BED OF ALZHEIMER'S RESEARCH. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF "CATALYST," STEVE FILMER IS HERE WITH A LOOK AHEAD AT TONIGHT'S PROGRAM.

Steve Filmer: TED, STOPPING ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE MEANS SAVING LIVES. BUT TREATING AND SLOWING THE DISEASE MEANS VICTIMS CAN LIVE BETTER LIVES BEFORE THEY DIE. WE'RE LUCKY TO HAVE TWO THINGS GOING IN OUR STATE. A STRONG COMMITMENT TO RESEARCH IN MEDICINE, AND VOLUNTEERS. HERE IS HOST VANESSA RUIZ.

Vanessa Ruiz: SANDY AND HARRY ENJOY CROSS WORD PUZZLES, BUT FOR SANDY, THEY ARE GETTING HARDER.

Harry: HER SHORT-TERM MEMORY IS VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT. I MEAN, YOU CAN ASK HER WHAT DAY IT IS, AND SHE PROBABLY WON'T KNOW.

Sandy: IT'S NOT SOMETHING THAT CAME ON LIKE THAT. IT'S SOMETHING THAT COMES ON SLOWLY. AND THEN YOU START THINKING, LIKE, I DON'T KNOW IF THAT'S RIGHT OR WRONG. I BETTER ASK HARRY.

Harry: SHE'LL RECOGNIZE HER GRANDDAUGHTERS AND GRANDSONS, BUT SHE MAY NOT REMEMBER THEIR NAMES ANYMORE.

Sandy: I'M NOT CAPABLE OF NECESSARILY MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION, AND IF I SAY, HARRY, I WANT TO DO THIS, HE MIGHT SAY, SANDY, THAT'S NOT THE WAY TO GO.

Harry: EVEN BEFORE SANDY WAS DIAGNOSED WITH ALZHEIMER'S, WE -- WE FELT THAT WE MIGHT AS WELL DONATE OUR BODIES AND MAYBE HELP SOMEBODY ELSE.

Sandy: IF I'M GOING TO DIE, IT ISN'T GOING TO HELP ME ANY, BUT IF THERE'S SOMETHING IN THERE THAT MIGHT HELP SOMEONE IN THE FUTURE, WE DON'T KNOW THAT.

Tom Beach: I'M TOM BEACH, AND I'M A NEUROPATHOLOGIST, WHICH MEANS I DIAGNOSE BRAIN DISEASES UNDER THE MICROSCOPE. I'M THE DIRECTOR OF THE BRAIN AND BODY DONATION PROGRAM. WHICH MEANS WE FOLLOW OLDER PEOPLE THROUGH LIFE, AND WITH NEUROPSYCHOLOGY TESTS AND MOVEMENT TESTS AND WHEN THEY DIE WE DO AUTOPSY AND SAMPLE THE BRAIN AS WELL AS ALL OF THE BODY ORGANS FOR RESEARCH USE. OKAY. I'M GOING TO SHOW YOU THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A NORMAL BRAIN FROM AN OLDER PERSON, AND A BRAIN OF SOMEONE WHO HAD ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE. LIFT THE BRAIN OUT. THIS IS OF A NORMAL OLDER PERSON. I THINK THEY WERE 64 YEARS OLD AT THE TIME OF DEATH. AND YOU SEE ALL OF THESE SQUIGGLY THINGS ON THE SURFACE OF THE BRAIN ARE PART OF THE CEREBRAL CORTEX. AND YOU SEE HOW FULL THEY ARE, AND PRESSED TOGETHER THEY ARE. AND I'M GOING TO SHOW YOU NOW A BRAIN FROM SOMEONE WHO HAD ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE, AND IT'S ONLY HALF OF A BRAIN, BUT I THINK YOU CAN SEE THE DIFFERENCE IN THAT THEY ARE MUCH NARROWER AND THE SPACES BETWEEN THEM ARE MUCH WIDER, AND IN THE NORMAL BRAIN, THE RICH TOPS ARE BROOD AND THE VALLEYS BETWEEN THEM ARE VERY NARROW, BUT IN THE ALZHEIMER'S BRAIN THE RIDGE TOPS ARE NARROWER, AND THE VALLEYS BETWEEN THEM ARE MUCH BROADER. THIS IS WHAT RESULTS WHEN MANY OF THE BRAIN'S PROCESSES DIE BACK. THE NERVE BRANCHES BECOME PRUNED BACK. DURING LIFE, THE DIAGNOSIS OF ALZHEIMER'S AND PARKINSON'S IS REALLY A BEST GUEST BY THE NEUROLOGIST, AND IT'S FAIRLY ACCURATE, BUT FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES WE WANT TO BE COMPLETELY ACCURATE, SO AT AUTOPSY WE CONFIRM BY LOOKING AT THEIR BRAIN UNDER THE MICROSCOPE WHETHER THEY REALLY DID HAVE ALZHEIMER'S AND PARKINSON'S, BUT ANALYZING THE CHEMISTRY OF THE BRAIN, HOPEFULLY WE CAN IDENTIFY THE FIRST TWO OR THREE CHEMICAL REACTIONS THAT STARTED OFF THE DISEASE PROCESS, AND IF WE CAN IDENTIFY THOSE CHEMICAL REACTIONS, THEN WE CAN THINK OF DRUGS THAT CAN GO INTO THE CHEMICAL REACTION AND CHANGE IT, SO THE DISEASE DOES NOT PROGRESS.

Brett Cutler: FOR ALL OF OUR DONORS THEIR DONATION FOLLOWS A STANDARD SET OF PROCEDURES. WE HAVE TO GO FROM THE WHOLE BRAIN TO SOMETHING THAT IS SLICED VERY THINLY AND STAINED ON A GLASS PUT ON A SLIDE. THE TYPE OF MICRONOMY I’M DOING HERE INVOLVES FREEZING THE TISSUE AND USING A DEVICE TO CUT THE FROZEN TISSUE SO THAT WE GET THOSE SECTIONS WHICH CAN LATER BE MOUNTED ON GLASS SLIDES. EACH OF THESE BRAIN SLICES IS PRETTY LARGE. SOME OF THE BRAIN REGIONS WE LOOK AT ARE PRETTY SMALL.

Vanessa Ruiz: OUR BRAINS HAVE MANY CONNECTIONS TO AND FROM OTHER PARTS OF OUR BODIES. THAT'S WHY RESEARCH ARE ALSO PRESERVING AND EXAMINING OTHER MAJOR ORGANS ALONG WITH THE DONATED BRAIN.

Tom Beach: I'M PULLING OUT A HEART NOW FROM A RECENT AUTOPSY, THIS IS UNDISSECTED.

Vanessa Ruiz: HERE INSIDE THE HEART OF ALZHEIMER'S VICTIMS, A CONTRADICTION. THEIR BRAINS MAY BE RAVAGED BUT THEIR HEARTS MAY OFTEN SEAM HEALTHIER THAN MANY OF THE HEARTS OF PEOPLE WHO DON'T HAVE ALZHEIMER'S.

Tom Beach: IS THE COMBINATION OF HEART AND BRAIN DISEASE ADDITIVE OR SYNERGISTIC? WE STILL DON'T KNOW. BUT WE HAVE PUBLISHED A STUDY ON THE HEART IN ALZHEIMER'S, COMPARED TO THE HEART IN NORMAL OLDER PEOPLE, AND SURPRISINGLY THE HEART IN ALZHEIMER'S SEEMS HEALTHIER. THEY ARE ABOUT 100 GRAMS LIGHTER ON AVERAGE, AND FOR A HEART, IT'S GOOD TO BE LIGHTER, AND THEY HAVE FEWER DIAGNOSED CARDIOVASCULAR CONDITIONS. AND IT'S PROBABLY BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE ARE BECOMING DOWN WITH ALZHEIMER'S AND BECOMING COGNITIVELY IMPAIRED, THEY BEGIN TO LOSE WEIGHT. AND SO ON AVERAGE OUR ALZHEIMER'S PATIENTS ARE -- HAVE A VMI OF ABOUT 1.5 POINTS LOWER THAN THE NORMAL ELDERLY OF THE SAME AGE.

Tom Beach: MANY OLDER PEOPLE DO EVENTUALLY GET ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE, SO IF WE FOLLOW -- ARE FOLLOWING 400 OR MORE ANNUALLY, SOME OF THEM INEVITABLY COME DOWN WITH ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE, SO LOOKING BACKWARDS IN RETROSPECT, WE CAN SEE IF THERE IS ANYTHING ABOUT THEIR CLINICAL TESTING THAT MIGHT HAVE GIVEN US A CLUE THAT THEY WERE ABOUT TO COME DOWN WITH ALZHEIMER'S, BECAUSE OUR -- OUR FOCUS AND THE FOCUS OF MUCH OF THE RESEARCH WORLD IN ALZHEIMER'S AND PARKINSON'S IS TRYING TO DETECT PEOPLE WITH DISEASE BEFORE THEY EVEN KNOW THEY HAVE DISEASE, SO THAT WE CAN USE TREATMENTS TO PREVENT FURTHER DETERIORATION. ♪

Steve Filmer: AT THEN OF LIFE, MOST OF US FEEL ONE OF OUR LAST DECISIONS NEEDS TO BE WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO US AFTER WE'RE GONE. THOSE WHO ARE DONATING KNOW THEY ARE VERY LIKELY CHANGING AND IMPROVING THE LIVES OF PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE. TED?

Ted Simons: ALL RIGHT. THANKS, STEVE. AND YOU CAN WATCH THE FULL EPISODE OF "CATALYST: SHAPING THE FUTURE" TONIGHT AT 9:00 RIGHT HERE ON ARIZONA PBS.

Ted Simons: AND THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," A PHOENIX NEIGHBORHOOD WITH THE CITY’S HIGHEST CONCENTRATION OF PUBLIC HOUSING GETS A $30 MILLION REDEVELOP GRANT, AND SEE HOW OFFICIALS ARE WORKING TO KEEP ARIZONA'S VOTING SYSTEM SECURE. THAT IS THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING. ♪

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