Rosemary Navarro, a mother of two from La Habra, has always known that something sinister was destroying members of her family.
"It’s very sad. It’s a very evil disease, which I call it, because it takes away the person that you know," Navarro said.
Her aunts, uncles and cousins have been afflicted. When they hit their forties, they started to lose their minds. Then, it happened to her mother.
"She started getting symptoms at the age of 40, things like really forgetful," Navarro said. "By the age of 41 she wasn’t able to sustain a job, she would wander off. She’s just standing there."
Dr. John Ringman, at UCLA, treated Navarro’s mother and discovered she was suffering from early Alzheimer’s disease, and that it was triggered by a specific gene mutation.
"If you inherit this gene, this form of the gene, that you will almost certainly develop this disease," Ringman said. "If your parent had the gene, then you are at 50 percent risk of inheriting it as well."
The search for answers sent Ringman to Jalisco, Mexico.
"We started realizing that the number of families that we saw could trace their roots to the same area of Mexico and it turns out that eventually we realize that they have the same mutation," he said.
"It all stems from one initial foundation possibly 100 years ago and these are all his or her descendants."
Rosemary’s biggest question now is, does she have this gene, too?
"I’m concerned for myself," she said. "I have two children and my future is what matters to them at this point."
She was tested, and the result was devastating. She does have the gene. And that means her children have a 50 percent chance of having the gene, as well.
For their sake, and her own, Rosemary is trying to help find a cure and get ahead of the game.
Although she has no symptoms yet, Navarro is already taking drugs to try to prevent the disease. Every few months, she goes to UCLA for tests.
Soon, she will start on a new drug trial to try to find a method to prevent Alzheimer’s disease from coming on altogether. And because she has the gene, she is uniquely qualified.
"In this population we can predict with 100 percent certainty who’s going to develop the disease, furthermore we have a pretty good idea at what age they are going to start showing symptoms, so this allows us to sensitively test the efficacy of medications," Ringman said.
"The first wave of treatments is stimulating someone’s own immune system or providing antibodies against this molecule that gets deposited in the brain, hoping by doing so we will help the body clear protein out and therefore cut off the cascade of events that cause the disease," he added.
The treatment involves an intravenous infusion of an antibody, administered every three months, against the amyloid protein that deposits into the brain and is thought to cause the cascade of events that leads to Alzheimer’s.
If this trial proves successful, it can change the face of Alzheimer’s treatment for other people who are at risk.
Rosemary remains hopeful that she will be around for her kids for years to come.
"I’m their only provider," she said. "I have to be their one and only for as long as I can, so they are the ones that give me the strength to do that."