ORLANDO, Fla. - When you meet Dave and Diane Wolk, you feel like you're meeting the happiest couple in the world. The love is so palpable that the heartache is not.
Diane is being treated for Alzheimer's disease.
"Everybody's got something. This is what I've got," she said with a warm smile.
Diane doesn't look like the typical face of Alzheimer's. She's 60 years old. She started showing symptoms at 53.
"It was a little scary," she said. "I just knew I wasn't right."
Diane was leading a successful, happy life. The Wolk's are a close, loving family. Diane, who once served as the head of Vermont's State Board of Education, was well-respected by her colleagues.
"You ask yourself, how can someone who is so intelligent, vital in every way, have this? How can this happen?" her husband said.
Those questions led Dave on a quest for answers. His research ultimately led the couple to Orlando, where Dr. Craig Curtis at Compass Research is taking part in one of the largest Alzheimer's drug trials in the country.
"This drug could be a game-changer," Curtis said. "It's potentially a disease modify drug. (It) could actually start to slow down or stabilize the disease."
The drug is called Bapineuzamab. To understand how it should work, it's helpful to understand the basics of Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is believed to be caused by a buildup of abnormal proteins that forms plaque around the brain cells.
The goal of any Alzheimer's drug would be to remove that plaque so the brain cells stay intact. So far, no drug has done that. But Bapineuzumab, which is an antibody that attaches to the plaque and allows the immune system to remove it, is showing great promise. The trial is still underway but, according to Curtis, there is already evidence that the drug is lowering plaque levels in the brain.
"It will be a breakthrough along the lines of the polio vaccine," Curtis said.
Until the trial is over and the data is analyzed, it won't be known if the drug actually slows down or stops Alzheimer's from progressing. Dave and Diane, meanwhile, are cautiously optimistic.
"You know that they call it, the long goodbye," Dave said. "It's a nasty disease, and we're just hoping to hang on as long as we can until they find a cure."
Diane Wolk is one of 2000 people in the Bapineuzumab trial. Results of the entire study will not be published until another year or two.
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