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Monday, January 21, 2008

Case Western prof attacks the hyping of Alzheimer’s

Posted By on Mon, Jan 21, 2008 at 5:25 AM

This month, a Case Western neurology professor quietly entered the war against the hand that long fed him: Big Pharma. In The Myth of Alzheimer's: What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Disease, Dr. Peter Whitehouse and his co-author, Daniel George, argue that the “illness” that struck Ronald Reagan and Sugar Ray Robinson is a blanket label for the normal process of brain aging. Everyone’s brain ages differently, and at its own pace, they say. So why give people false hope by telling them a magical vaccine or pill will stop it? “All we’re trying to say is, it’s not a specific disease,” George says. “Our brains start aging when we’re in the womb…” But try telling that to the drug companies and lobbyists who make their living advocating for a “cure.” “It’s not politically correct right now to argue against Alzheimer’s,” George says. “Getting funding requires having a disease.” Whitehouse should know. He’s an internationally renowned expert in the field. Back in the ‘80s, his research at Johns Hopkins helped companies develop early drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. In fact, he consulted for Big Pharma until last year. But he’s come to realize that drugs aren’t the answer. Keeping your brain engaged and volunteering in the community — as some of his patients do -- is more helpful at slowing the effects of aging. George, meanwhile, is a 25-year-old Ph.D. candidate and research assistant for Whitehouse. He’s not exactly groomed to be at the center of an international medical controversy. “It’s a bit overwhelming, but it’s exciting too,” he says, then jokes: “If I do go missing, some very powerful people in Washington, D.C. are behind it.” – Lisa Rab

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