Guest Column: Another Growing Health Crisis

This editorial was run in the Kelowna Daily Courier on May 20, 2020, on Clinical Trials Day during Clinical Trial Awareness Week. Dr. Kim Christie is the President of GAP-Net Site Okanagan Clinical Trials in Kelowna, British Columbia in Canada.

Today is Clinical Trials Day, an observance commemorating the first controlled clinical trial conducted by James Lind on May 20, 1747. Much has changed since Lind studied scurvy in sailors, but the need for clinical trials has not.

Clinical trials are crucial for finding new and better treatments for all diseases. An estimated 41 per cent of Canadians take at least one prescription drug – for arthritis, for heart disease, for cancer – and every single one was approved for public use based on the results of a clinical trial. I am thankful that clinical trials for treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 are being rapidly undertaken as it is the only path that leads to approved medications.

While society is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, another health crisis is still growing, Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, over 747,000 people in Canada are living with Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to double by 2031. Like COVID-19, there are currently no treatments to stop Alzheimer’s disease and many health care professionals do not believe that our health care system is equipped to handle this projection. We urgently need a treatment that can slow the progression of the disease.

The answer hinges on clinical research, which in turn relies on volunteer participants. Despite the growing number of Alzheimer’s cases, a surprising fact to many is that clinical trials are often delayed by slow recruitment. However, I believe that Alzheimer’s research is near a breakthrough. Now more than ever before, research centres need people to join Alzheimer’s clinical trials.

Alzheimer’s research is of the utmost importance for the millions of people impacted by the disease, including my family. I was in my second year at the University of Calgary when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I was shocked to realize that there was nothing available to treat him. This realization inspired me to switch my major and eventually earn a PhD in neuroscience. Since then, I have dedicated my career to finding medications that help people with Alzheimer’s.

My motivation is continually fueled by the fact that having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease increases the risk of the developing the disease yourself. Consequently, not only am I at an increased risk, but so is my son Lachlan. If previous generations don’t step up and address this public health crisis, then Lachlan’s generation will face an even larger Alzheimer’s challenge as the population ages. However, many signs point to an optimistic future.

Every day at Okanagan Clinical Trials, I see families coping with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I see firsthand that giving people a chance to join a clinical trial provides them with an opportunity to join a team that will walk with them on their journey. My team is continuously grateful to them for their contributions and meaningful impact for future generations. These ‘citizen scientists’ are stepping up and getting involved, and I am constantly inspired by their dedication.

If you are an older adult with concerns about your memory or a diagnosed memory condition, you can help advance Alzheimer’s disease research by volunteering for a clinical trial.

For Clinical Trials Day, I want to thank everyone who is involved in any type of clinical trial. Participating in clinical research is how we’re going to advance medicine, not just for Alzheimer’s disease, but for all diseases.

Originally posted by the Kelowna Daily Courier on May 20, 2020.

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