By Kate Daly
Special to The Almanac
Almost all of the 330 guests raised their hands when asked if they are worried about developing Alzheimer's disease. And yet, an hour and a half later, after hearing from various experts about research that is underway, many left the recent Part the Cloud Luncheon in Menlo Park feeling somewhat hopeful.
One panelist, Dr. Eric Siemers, has been involved in neurodegenerative disease research for decades. As he put it, "Progress is being made every step of the way."
The sold-out event on Feb. 13 at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club raised more than $1 million. Co-chaired by Stephanie Harman and Heather Pietsch, it was the fourth luncheon since 2012, when founder Michaela "Mikey" Hoag of Atherton organized the first gala fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association.
Alternating between galas and luncheons each year since then, the events have raised more than $30 million. Hoag thanked supporters for contributing to what "has become a global movement in Alzheimer's research."
So far, Part the Cloud has funded 34 research grants aimed at early phase clinical studies. According to the event program, grant recipients have then gone on to procure over $180 million in additional funding from the National Institutes of Health and venture capital.
"Let's hope one day there will be a survivor from this disease," Hoag said.
She has experienced the grief of Alzheimer's with both her parents. She invited actress Marcia Gay Harden, another "daughter of Alzheimer's," as Harden called herself at the luncheon, to come and share her story.
Harden's mother passed away in December. The actress told the crowd that her mother's memory loss felt "like scenes left on the editing floor."
To help restore those scenes, Harden wrote a book, "The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family and Flowers." Every guest received a copy.
After Harden spoke, a panel of doctors discussed some of the latest research on the disease.
The event program listed panelist Dr. Frank Longo as receiving a grant from Part the Cloud in 2013 for a Phase I trial on a drug designed to block "degeneration associated with amyloid, tau, inflammation and aging."
That trial, he said, helped pave the way for his current Phase IIa Alzheimer's trial at NIH.
Dr. Longo practices at the Stanford Memory Disorders Clinic where, he said, "We see a very high volume" of patients, a demand and a "need for cognitive assessments."
He said blood tests are being developed to predict when someone will develop Alzheimer's.
When asked by an audience member what can be done now to stave off or slow down the disease, he recommended physical exercise, at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. He also suggested following a Mediterranean diet and "staying cognitively engaged."
The panelists talked about the benefits of reminiscence therapy for Alzheimer's patients, using music, art and/or pictures to help bring back memories and promote good thoughts.
Go to tinyurl.com/partcloud for more information about Part the Cloud.