Israel psychiatry professor Dr. Michal Schnaider Beeri has given people around the world hope through her trailblazing research in the area of preventing the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in the general population.
Beeri, who heads the Sagol Neuroscience Research Center at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, focuses her research on diabetes as a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's, and how lifestyle, blood, and genetic factors affect the greater brain and cognitive impairment of people
She traveled to Chicago in the spring and did an email interview with JUF News during her stay.
JUF News : How did you become interested in the field of Alzheimer's disease and dementia?
Dr. Michal Shnaider Beeri: My grandfather who I loved very much was eating lunch and got confused between his fish and lemon and tried to eat the lemon. That is when my grandma explained to me that he has Alzheimer's disease. The pain stays with me to this day. I have probably seen thousands of patients through our research, and every time I hope to feel less pain, but it does not go away. I [identify] with the cause and devote my career to contribute to stopping this disease.
Are there any predictors of who is more likely to develop Alzheimer's or dementia?
The strongest predictors for Alzheimer's and dementia are ones that we cannot alter-age, (being) female, and the APOE 4 genotype. However, in addition, there are risk factors that are modifiable and include type 2 diabetes…physical inactivity, and obesity.
Can you explain how physical and cognitive activity may possibly slow the progression of Alzheimer's?
Observational studies consistently show that individuals who maintain physical activity are at lower risk of developing the disease. Similarly, people with [less] education, with jobs that require less cognitive activity, or who simply perform less cognitive activity during life have a higher risk of developing dementia.
To conclude that increasing physical and cognitive activity improves the course of decline and delay diagnosis can only be done through a clinical trial, where half people will have an intervention with physical/cognitive activity and the other half (the control group) will not. There are some such studies ongoing, and the initial results indeed suggest that such interventions may slow the course of cognitive decline, but a lot more has to be done.
What have you found in your research that links diabetes to Alzheimer's disease?
We have shown that diabetes in midlife is associated with a [larger] risk of developing dementia at old age, that poor glycemic control over time is associated with greater cognitive impairment, and that there are certain genes, such as the haptoglobin gene, that affect these relationships in a way that people who carry a specific type of the gene seem to have particularly high brain vulnerability to poor glycemic control.
How far down the road do you believe we are from a cure to Alzheimer's?
It is not easy to say as, unfortunately, so many medications tested in the last decade have failed. I can say that the National Institutes of Health has put prevention as a primary goal, which is what our group›s research is focusing on. This is because the pathology of Alzheimer's disease begins 20-30 years before the disease shows its first clinical signs and we believe that stopping this process early on may impede its development altogether.