COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–For the more than 35,000 Central Ohio families fighting Alzheimer’s, Monday morning’s announcement from the FDA provided a ray of hope in their fight.
“The disease has the symptoms that it does. and they’re serious and they’re chronic and they’re fatal,” said Rod Blough of Dublin. “But this drug offers the opportunity for something we’ve never had before and that’s to do undo the damage being done by the plaque in the brain. So it’s a very exciting day.”
Blough was diagnosed more than five years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
Then just 57, Blough’s diagnosis forced him to leave his job. He traded in his Outlook calendar for a chalkboard in his kitchen to remind him of his plans for the week aided by his wife Jennifer.
“I may lose him before I actually lose him physically. And the thought that he might not recognize me one day is terrifying,” Jennifer Blough said. “We’ll be married 20 years this month. We had a retirement plan. We had a future planned out for after we were done working and it’s not likely that we’re going to be able to do that or to share that time. So, that’s really heartbreaking for me.”
“I’m used to being able to make things happen and to fix them, for myself and for others around me,” Rod Blough said. “Alzheimer’s is something that I haven’t been able to fix and that’s frustrating for a person that’s wired like I am. But now there’s a drug that’s coming along that offers an opportunity and I’m hopeful because of it.”
That drug is Aducanumab. Doctors and advocates say it’s a potential breakthrough in Alzheimer’s treatment.
“It’s disease-modifying, it gets rid of these toxic amyloid proteins that build up in the brain of Alzheimer’s and kills the nerve cells there. So you might imagine, ‘Gosh, the earlier that I get rid of this toxic material, my brain’s going to be better.’ Very true,” said Dr. Douglas Scharre with OSU Wexner Medical Center.
“There’s never been a treatment that affects the underlying disease itself,” said Vince McGrail, Executive Director of the Central Ohio Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “There are drugs that have been approved that help with some of the symptoms, some of the behavioral symptoms. This is the first time any drug’s been approved that actually can improve the underlying disease and possibly improve cognitive function.”
As a former distance runner, Rod Blough said he’s used to focusing on the finish line.
When it comes to setting goals and milestones in his fight against Alzheimer’s, he’s taking a different approach.
“When I know where the end line is, I run very hard and run through the tape, and then I’m exhausted. I’ve spent it all. So if I pick a date and say ‘I’m going to get there,’ I probably will and then I’m going to be done. I don’t think I want to do that in this case. I think I want to run the race as if there isn’t an end point,” Rod Blough said.
He’s also focused on his family…who in turn, are focused on him and hopeful the new drug could help slow the progression of his disease.
“We could have more time with him and that would be that would be wonderful,” Jennifer Blough said. “If we have more time with him, we’ll have more time to make memories, we’ll have more things to remember and Rod will be there for important events.
As much of a major step as the approval is, McGrail says there is still more work to be done.
“If you step back in time a couple decades ago where cancer was, there weren’t any treatments. Now there are hundreds of treatments, depending on the type of cancer someone has. We’re looking at the same pathway,” McGrail said. “How are we able to diagnose it earlier, how are we able to come up with a blood test that can tell someone that they’re going to have Alzheimer’s disease, and then what are the treatment’s we can have early on to change the course of the disease.”
“We are now working on medications that help to modify the disease, change the disease, so not just helping the brain while it’s dying, but actually slow down the course,” Dr. Scharre said. Scharre and Wexner Medical Center have been involved in trials with Aducanumab.
“This is how we discover new innovations and treatments for people, Scharre said. “These medications are working. We can keep them safe for people. They get rid of these toxic proteins and it looks like they can potentially change the course of the disease.”