SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – While major discoveries have been made about most modern diseases, the number of victims of Alzheimer’s disease is actually increasing.

It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one among the top 10 that can’t be prevented, cured or slowed.

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Bill Fisher, CEO of the Northern California Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, recently took part in a gathering of the minds on the very topic of Alzheimer’s disease at Stanford University.

He said the common thought that Alzheimer’s is an “old person’s disease” is not necessarily the case any longer.

“Principal risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are genetics and age. But we also see Alzheimer’s in people in their 40s and 50s,” Fisher said. “We estimate somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 people (suffer from the disease) in that age group.”

KCBS Interviews Bill Fisher, CEO of the Northern California Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association:

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Fisher said one of the main problems researchers are having is a lack of funding.

“Federal funding in the U.S. is still the largest player. When you talk to the researchers that are involved in this, they believe that we can do this,” he said. “When you go back 10 years ago, there were no treatments in phase two or three trials for Alzheimer’s disease. Today, there are several.”

To that point, Fisher said several drugs have been approved, with some patients benefiting from the treatment.

“There’s not a treatment that’s going to alter or modify the disease at this point,” he said. “But there are four drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are symptomatic treatments. About a third of people with Alzheimer’s get some benefit from those medications. But it doesn’t delay the underlying pathology. The disease will continue to progress and it will eventually take this individual’s life.”

Fisher said that as the disease remains a mystery, it also is one of the afflictions most feared by adults, ranking second only to cancer.

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