Rudy Tanzi, PhD, the director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016 for his decades of research into Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory disorders.

Dr. Tanzi will be a keynote speaker at the World Neuroscience Innovation Forum at the Francis Crick Institute on 27 March 2017. The event is co-sponsored by the Crick Institute and Partners HealthCare

What’s the current state of Alzheimer’s disease research?

I think we are at a turning point. We now know that amyloid plaques trigger this disease — they trigger cell death and inflammation — and we can say with confidence that this process starts 20 years before symptoms manifest, typically when a patient is in their 40s or 50s.

So we need to move up the timeline for Alzheimer’s treatment before it’s too late to reverse the damage.

You don’t wait until someone with cancer has a one-inch tumor with pain to start treatment; you start as soon as you see the pathology beginning. It’s the same thing with heart disease. You don’t wait until someone has a myocardial infraction (heart attack) or congestive heart failure; you treat them as soon as you see there is plaque around the heart or high blood pressure.

But still, you have a clinical trial for a drug that targets amyloid that fails where you are trying to treat people who have advanced Alzheimer’s disease, and the media reports that amyloid is the wrong target because the trial failed.

No, the trial failed the hypothesis; the hypothesis didn’t fail the trial. You can’t wait until people already have the disease and then expect it to turn around.

That’s what I think the turning point is — a better understanding of the tempo of events of the disease. It’s not just “right patient, right drug.” It’s “right patient, right drug, right time.”

What are the challenges with early diagnosis and treatment?

You can imagine the social stigma of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease 15 years before symptoms. Nobody at any job with high responsibility wants to be stigmatized with Alzheimer’s disease just because they have the pathology in their brain indicating they might have symptoms 15 years from now. So we have to figure out some middle road.

What makes the World Neuroscience Innovation Forum unique?

I think it’s the high level of expertise among participants and the discussion-style format, which allows for a highly productive exchange of ideas.

When people come to the forum and see the level of expertise that our speakers have, they don’t need to see all of the supporting graphs and tables and data. They’re going to trust what people have to say. That gives us the ability to have an open discussion.

You not only get the information, you get the pros and cons, the points of views, the strengths and weaknesses. You get the interactions, the agreements and also some disagreements.

At the previous World Neuroscience Innovation Forum (in Boston in 2015), we were able to talk about what types of clinical trials were coming up, what to look forward to and what the most promising new prospects were in terms of diagnosis, therapeutics, imaging and biomarkers.

Now here we are with the next version of this forum, and things have changed dramatically. It’s going to be a very different discussion.

What can attendees from foundations, philanthropists and venture capital firms learn from the event?

It helps to educate them about the most promising new avenues of research in neuroscience and what they should be looking for when funding a project.

Many times, a philanthropist or a foundation will get a nice-looking proposal, but they don’t know if this is something new and state-of-the-art or if this is five-year-old technology that is being rehashed.

We focus on what is happening right now and what we can look forward to in the next year or so.

To learn more about the World Neuroscience Innovation Forum and register as a participant or sponsor, please visit www.neuroscienceinnovationforum.org.