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Research Patient Care

Dr. Potter: Progress toward new Alzheimer's treatments

In podcast he says the disease is ‘not just a health problem, but a societal problem’

Author Chris Casey | Publish Date September 24, 2019

Huntington Potter, PhD, has spent his career researching the manifold mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease, which currently affects over 5.5 million people in the United States at a cost of about $200 billion a year. By 2050, almost 14 million Americans are expected to be living with the disease at a cost of $1 trillion a year – in Medicare and Medicaid costs alone.

“This is a major, major problem,” said Potter, professor of neurology in the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “It’s not just a health problem, but a societal problem.”

In conjunction with World Alzheimer’s Month, Potter sat down with CU Anschutz 360 for a candid discussion about the state of Alzheimer’s research and progress being made toward possible treatments. He notes that the center he directs, The Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center, is now one of the major Alzheimer’s research centers in the country.

On this episode of CU Anschutz 360, you’ll hear about:

  • Current strides toward finding treatments, including a CU Anschutz-led clinical trial that is showing promising early results;
  • The possible benefits of drinking coffee and other dietary habits that might help reduce a person’s risk of getting Alzheimer’s;
  • The connection between Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis;
  • The connection between Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome, which is the focus of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, of which Dr. Potter is also a member;
  • How Alzheimer’s is actually a disease of middle age; and
  • Potter’s personal interest in the illness, which is the sixth-most common cause of death in the United States.

When Potter came to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus seven years ago, Denver was one of the last major metropolitan areas in the nation without an Alzheimer’s research center. He was specifically recruited to launch a center, and the clinical and research enterprise has grown from a single neurologist seeing about 100 patients a year to a staff of 50 physicians and researchers seeing almost 3,000 patients a year.

Many aspects of the disease remain mysterious – such as how diet and exercise might reduce the possibility of getting Alzheimer’s, how inflammation plays a role in the illness, and exactly why amyloid deposits in the brain cause nerve cells to die – and it will take the collective work of researchers worldwide to develop treatments or a cure, Potter said.

Dr. Huntington Potter chats with Chris Casey in the Office of Communications. 

“Alzheimer’s is an equal-opportunity killer; we’re all at risk,” he said. “If we live to be 85, almost half of us will have Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not as though one ethnic group or another is protected or guaranteed to get it. We’re all in the same boat, and we all have to bail like mad and fix the leaks.”

When asked what advice he gives to people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as well as their caregivers, Potter said, “I recommend that the most important thing is to not lose heart … many scientists around the world are trying their best to develop new treatments.”