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Alzheimer's research continues to show promise

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(CNN) -- At the World Alzheimer Congress held this week in Washington, D.C., researchers reported a belief that they've finally cracked some of the mysteries of the disease.

The biggest gathering of its kind, the conference ending July 18 has brought together researchers, doctors and advocates from many locations to share information and network.

About 12 million people, including 4 million in the United States, have Alzheimer's, according to the latest estimates. The debilitating brain disease influences the lives of millions of other people, particularly family members of patients.

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People with Alzheimer's develop plaques and tangles in the brain, which eventually kill nerve cells, causing dementia and other problems. Researchers believe it happens when certain chemicals attack brain cell proteins. Brain tissue also becomes inflamed.

Several drug compounds are currently being tested for effectiveness against memory loss. Work progresses on a vaccine. And researchers are studying the role played by environmental factors such as a high-fat diet and high cholesterol and blood pressure.

"If we can characterize people clinically early in the course of the disease, we may be able to intervene," said Dr. Ronald Peterson of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.



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