When I told John Dwyer, CEO of GAP, Global Alzheimer’s Platform, that I would be in Vegas speaking about the impact of caregiving on caregivers at a Senior Helpers convention, he graciously offered to arrange a tour of the Cleveland Clinic: Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and put me in contact with Dr. Kate Zhong, MD, MSC, FRCP. Kate recently retired as Senior Director of Clinical Research at the Cleveland Clinic only to be persuaded 48 hours later to join GAP.
I first met Kate two years ago when I was attending the US Against Alzheimer’s Annual Summit in Washington DC. A mover and shaker in the Alzheimer’s space, recently chosen as a Woman to Watch by Vegas INC, Kate is a powerhouse of beauty and brains. She picked me up at the Hard Rock Hotel a 3:30 PM to drive me to the clinic. We immediately bonded over our enthusiasm for caregivers and prevention and couldn’t stop bouncing ideas off of each other. As an interior designer, I was more than delighted when we pulled up to one of the most iconic buildings in Vegas, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. “What are we doing here?” I queried, “I love this building!” “This is the Cleveland Clinic.” Kate answered beaming with pride.
Thinking outside the box is obviously Gehry’s MO. (Uh, he designed furniture made from cardboard boxes.) I’m told his inspiration for this particular building was a crumpled up piece of paper! As I toured the building with it’s bold colored walls and deconstructed and mangled appearance, I could not help but think about the unorthodox mis-folding of Amyloid Beta Proteins in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Undoubtedly this building is the perfect environment to inspire creative researchers determined to find a cure for this dreaded disease.
The clinic welcomed its first patients in 2009 and currently treats patients for a variety of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as multiple sclerosis. It also provides many supportive services for the family members of those who suffer from these disorders.
The Clinic has no waiting room, so after being welcomed by friendly volunteers we were immediately escorted to the elevator. As we began to walk around I almost felt like I was in an art gallery rather than a clinic. Kate led me along a long gently curving wall to meet the Director of the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, MD, ScD. His excitement was contagious as he began to brief me on the current research being done there. We spoke about my hero, Dr. Rudolf Tanzi, and how they hope to use his petri dish model, Alzheimer’s in a dish, to further their research.
Bexarotene, a drug approved by the FDA for certain kinds of skin cancer, was reported in 2012 to dramatically reduce the toxic protein of Alzheimer’s (amyloid) in mice engineered to produce the protein in the brain. The animals also exhibited cognitive improvement. Following up this study, Cleveland Clinic investigators administered the drug in a small double blind placebo controlled study. All patients had amyloid imaging to confirm the presence of brain amyloid at study entry. They found that there was a significant reduction in brain amyloid in the patients who did not carry the ApoE4 risk gene. There was no memory improvement in the brief treatment period (1 month). Dr. Cummings, who was the lead investigator, told me that this study shows that bexarotene or this class of drugs should be studied more for their potential to treat Alzheimer’s. He also said that this approach to drug testing where the treatment is first shown to affect the biology of Alzheimer’s before launching long expensive clinical trials is an important new model for drug development.
I could have listened to him all day but I had to get back to the Hard Rock to talk with Sr. Helpers about their upcoming conference. On our way out I couldn’t resist checking out the Lou Ruvo, Keep Memory Alive Event Center. Wow! No wonder they raised more than 20 million dollars for Alzheimer’s Research! I left the Cleveland Clinic that day excited and encouraged to know there are brilliant minds and passionate people at the Cleveland Clinic are working day and night to find a cure!
From my heart,