Major Milestones in Alzheimer’s and Brain Research
Alzheimer's disease was first described in 1906. In the century since then, scientists have made remarkable strides in understanding how Alzheimer's affects the brain and learning how to make life better for affected individuals and families. Below are some important milestones in our progress, including the founding of the Alzheimer's Association in 1980, which has played a key role in advancing research and raising awareness of the disease. Sign up for our weekly e-news and stay up-to-date on the latest advances in Alzheimer's treatments, care and research.
1906: Dr. Alois Alzheimer first describes "a peculiar disease"
German physician Alois Alzheimer, a pioneer in linking symptoms to microscopic brain changes, describes the haunting case of Auguste D., a patient who had profound memory loss, unfounded suspicions about her family, and other worsening psychological changes. In her brain at autopsy, he saw dramatic shrinkage and abnormal deposits in and around nerve cells.
Dr. Alzheimer died in 1915, never suspecting that his encounter with Auguste D. would one day touch the lives of millions and ignite a massive international research effort. Scientists recognize Dr. Alzheimer not only for his groundbreaking characterization of a major disease but also as a role model. He set a new standard for understanding neurodegenerative disorders by establishing a close clinical relationship with his patients and using new scientific tools to determine how symptoms related to physical brain changes.
Alzheimer's disease named
Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist who worked with Dr. Alzheimer, first names "Alzheimer's Disease" in the eighth edition of his book Psychiatrie.
Invention of electron microscope allows further study of brain
In 1931, Germans Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska co-invent the electron microscope, which can magnify up to 1 million times. It is not until after WWII that the electron microscope becomes common in major research settings, enabling scientists to study brain cells in more detail.
Development of cognitive measurement scales
Researchers develop the first validated measurement scale for assessing cognitive and functional decline in older adults, paving the way to correlate the level of measured impairment with estimates of the number of brain lesions and the volume of damaged tissue.
1970-1979: Modern Research Era
Founding of National Institute on Aging
An act of Congress establishes the National Institute on Aging (NIA) as one of our National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIA is our primary federal agency supporting Alzheimer's research.
Alzheimer's recognized as most common form of dementia
Neurologist Robert Katzman identifies Alzheimer's disease as the most common cause of dementia and a major public health challenge in his editorial published in Archives of Neurology.
In 1979, Jerome H. Stone and representatives from several family support groups met with the National Institute on Aging to explore the value of a national, independent, nonprofit organization to complement and stimulate federal efforts on Alzheimer's disease. That meeting resulted in the 1980 formation of the Alzheimer's Association with Mr. Stone as founding president.
Today, the Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care and support and the largest private, nonprofit funder of Alzheimer's research. Since funding its first grant in 1982, the association has awarded in excess of $300 million to more than 2,100 projects, supporting many of the most exciting developments in Alzheimer's research.
Declaration of National Alzheimer's Disease Month
Awareness of Alzheimer's disease increases, leading Congress to designate November 1983 as the first National Alzheimer's Disease Month.
Researchers George Glenner and Cai'ne Wong report identification of "a novel cerebrovascular amyloid protein," known as beta-amyloid — the chief component of Alzheimer's brain plaques and a prime suspect in triggering nerve cell damage.
Nationwide infrastructure for Alzheimer's research established
The NIA begins funding its network of Alzheimer's Disease Centers at flagship medical institutions, establishing a nationwide infrastructure for research, diagnosis and treatment.
1986 Tau protein identified
Researchers discover that tau protein is a key component of tangles—the second pathological hallmark of Alzheimer's disease and another prime suspect in nerve cell degeneration.
First Alzheimer's drug trial
The Alzheimer's Association assists the NIA and Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company (now Pfizer) in launching and recruiting participants for clinical trials of tacrine, the first drug specifically targeting symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
First deterministic Alzheimer's gene identified
Researchers identify the first gene associated with rare, inherited forms of Alzheimer's disease. This gene on chromosome 21 codes amyloid precursor protein (APP), the parent molecule from which beta-amyloid is formed. Chromosome 21 is also the chromosome of which those with Down syndrome have three copies rather than two. Many individuals with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer's disease, often as young as their 30s and 40s.
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1990-1999: Treatments emerge
Federal clinical study consortium launched
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) established the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), a nationwide medical network to facilitate clinical research and conduct federally funded clinical trials.
First Alzheimer's risk factor gene identified
Researchers identify APOE-e4, a form of the apolipoprotein-E (APOE) gene on chromosome 19, as the first gene that raises risk for Alzheimer's but does not determine that a person who has it will develop the disease.
First Alzheimer's drug approved by FDA
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves tacrine (Cognex) as the first drug specifically targeting Alzheimer's memory and thinking symptoms. Four additional drugs are approved over the next 10 years.
1994: President Reagan's diagnosis announced
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan shares with the American people that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
In an open letter to the American people about his decision to share his diagnosis President Reagan wrote, "In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it."
First World Alzheimer's Day
The first World Alzheimer's Day (WAD) launches on September 21 by Alzheimer's Disease International, the umbrella organization of Alzheimer's associations.
First transgenic mouse model announced
Researchers announce the first transgenic mouse model that developed Alzheimer-like brain pathology. The mouse was developed by inserting one of the human APP genes linked to a rare, inherited form of Alzheimer's disease.
The Alzheimer's Association first awarded a grant to develop a mouse model of a rare neurodegenerative disorder called Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker syndrome in 1989, laying the technical foundation for Alzheimer's mouse models.
"Alzheimer's vaccine" successful in mice
The first in a series of reports is published showing that injecting transgenic "Alzheimer" mice with beta-amyloid prevents the animals from developing plaques and other Alzheimer-like brain changes.
National Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Study begins
The Alzheimer's Association partners with the National Institute on Aging to recruit participants for the National Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Study, a federal initiative to collect and bank blood samples from families with several members who developed Alzheimer's disease late in life in order to identify additional Alzheimer's risk genes.
First report on Pittsburgh Compound B (PIB)
Researchers at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (AAICAD) share their first report on an imaging agent called Pittsburgh Compound B (PIB), a major potential breakthrough in disease monitoring and early detection. PIB enters the brain through the bloodstream and attaches itself to beta-amyloid deposits, where it can be detected by positron emission tomography (PET).
The Alzheimer's Association provided significant support to initiatives to develop PIB and conduct preclinical testing it in animal studies.
The ultimate goal of ADNI is to determine whether standardized images, possibly combined with laboratory and psychological tests, can identify high-risk individuals; provide early detection; and track and monitor treatment effects, especially in clinical trials of disease-modifying drugs. In 2006, the Association launched the European Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (E-ADNI), to expand ADNI's scope by combining data from several European brain imaging initiatives with ADNI data. This effort has now grown into World Wide ADNI (WW-ADNI), a global network of flagship research sites united in a common effort to improve diagnosis and speed treatment development with standardized protocols and data shared internationally.
The Alzheimer’s Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launch the Healthy Brain Initiative with the publication of A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health. The Road Map advances 44 science-based actions emphasizing primary prevention of cognitive impairment. The goal of this initiative is to maintain or improve the cognitive performance of all adults.
International Society to Advance Alzheimer Research and Treatment formed
The Alzheimer's Association announces funding of the Alzheimer's Association QC Program for CSF Biomarkers to help overcome variation among institutions in measuring potential biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
Alzheimer's researchers unite to
raise awareness and concern
Dozens of Alzheimer's researchers unite with the Alzheimer's Association for an "Alzheimer's Breakthrough Ride®," a 66-day bike relay across America to raise public and congressional awareness of the urgent need for more federal funding to support the search for effective Alzheimer's treatments.
Alzheimer's clinical trial
The Alzheimer's Association and its partners in the Coalition Against Major Diseases (CAMD) released a first-of-its kind database of 4,000 patients who participated in 11 pharmaceutical industry-sponsored clinical trials of Alzheimer's treatments. The combined data, accessible to any qualified researcher, will offer unprecedented power to understand the course of Alzheimer's.
The Association launches TrialMatch®, a free, user-friendly tool to help prospective participants identify clinical studies that might be a good fit. Stakeholders have unanimously identified building awareness of studies and increasing enrollment as key strategies to accelerate treatment development.
Alzheimer's advances to
sixth-leading cause of US deaths
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics releases final 2007 data showing that Alzheimer's disease is now our sixth-leading cause of death.
An influential model of biomarker changes during
Alzheimer’s disease progression is first published
A group of researchers publish a working model relating changes in Alzheimer’s biomarkers to disease stage and symptom severity. The model has become a focal point of research into Alzheimer’s biomarkers, and is revised periodically to account for new research.
President Obama signs
National Alzheimer's Project Act (NAPA) into law
Groundbreaking legislation establishes our first-ever framework for a national strategic plan to address the Alzheimer's crisis and to coordinate our response on multiple fronts, including research, care and support.
New criteria and guidelines for Alzheimer's disease diagnosis
Annual assessment for cognitive impairment for all Medicare
Beneficiaries implemented as part of Annual Wellness visits
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services implement Annual Wellness Visits for all Medicare Beneficiaries under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A mandatory part of the Annual Wellness Visit is an assessment for detection of cognitive impairment.
First major clinical trial for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease is initiated
A multinational research consortium, the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network, launches the first major clinical trial testing drug therapy to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in people who inherited an autosomal dominant mutation putting them at high risk for the disease.
International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project (IGAP)
researchers identify new genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease
Hundreds of researchers from around the world collaborate to perform a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies intended to identify genetic variations linked with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The collaboration revealed 20 genetic variations associated with increased risk, 11 of which had not been linked with Alzheimer’s before. Some of the newly identified genetic variations are thought to be specific to the immune system, adding to mounting evidence of a role for the immune system in Alzheimer’s disease.
Rates of death caused by Alzheimer’s disease found to be much higher than reported on death certificates