‘A Family Affair’ benefits Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center

The Gold Dome took on a purple hue this week as representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association’s Georgia Chapter, in their signature color, visited to raise awareness at the Capitol.

Some key statistics: 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and 120,000 of those are Georgia residents. Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed, and Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death. Since 2000, the incidence of Alzheimer’s has risen 66 percent.

Given such data, Georgians can be ever grateful for the funds and awareness raised at "A Family Affair," benefiting the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. The event was chaired by Sarah and James Kennedy, dedicated supporters of the center. Joining them were Jamie Kennedy, Barbara Kennedy Harty, James Rizor and Nancy Rizor; platinum sponsors Tommy and Beth Holder and Jane and Hicks Lanier; and representatives of families affected by Alzheimer's, including Sara Ann Vaughan, Inman Allen, Alister Bazaz, Jennifer Rogers and Sarah Clarke. The cause is an important one to the Kennedy family, as Sarah Kennedy's late father had Alzheimer's.

James Kennedy is chairman of Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Also joining in the event were Dr. Allan Levey, professor and Betty Gage Holland Chair of the Department of Neurology at Emory University's School of Medicine and director of the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center; and Dr. David Weinshenker of the Emory University Department of Human Genetics. Levey and Weinshenker collaborated on a clinical trial for a new drug treatment intervention in patients with confirmed mild cognitive impairment, a condition that frequently precedes Alzheimer's. The trial is being principally funded by Sarah and Jim Kennedy.

“I see my job as really trying to understand basic biology, understand how the human brain works, and hope that someday, people will use that information to develop new treatments and therapeutics,” Weinshenker, whose work was honored during the event, said during a video presentation prepared by event organizers.

Researchers are hoping to develop tests that will be able to identify the presence of Alzheimer’s early on. While the challenges are great, Weinshenker struck a hopeful note.

“We’re right on the precipice of being able to make an analogy to cancer and saying, we know enough about the actual biology of the disease that we can start targeting treatments and medications that will really make a difference,” he said. “This is the most exciting time to be an Alzheimer’s researcher, in my opinion.”

Added Sarah Kennedy, “There is nothing more exciting to me than going out to Emory and visiting these brilliant scientists in the Alzheimer’s research lab. It gives me hope. It gives all of us hope. Hope is such a powerful word.”