Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- Families in Western New York and southern Ontario who are affected by Alzheimer's disease and related disorders now have a comprehensive new resource: the University at Buffalo's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center, the first in the region.
The center, which opened this fall under the direction of Kinga Szigeti, MD, PhD, is based in UB's Department of Neurology in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the Jacobs Neurological Institute in Buffalo General Hospital.
The UB center offers a full range of clinical services for patients; it also conducts innovative, federally funded research designed to identify Alzheimer's disease biomarkers and better understand its genetic mechanisms in order to develop new treatments.
"We are thrilled to have recruited Dr. Szigeti to direct the center, which is unique in this community and for which there is an essential need," says Robert Sawyer, MD, professor and interim chair of the UB Department of Neurology. "She is a great researcher and teacher as well as a superb clinician."
Szigeti, a board-certified neurologist with specialty training in genetics and cognitive diseases, was recently recruited from Baylor College of Medicine to head the UB center.
"This center is a state-of the-art resource for families," says Szigeti. "We incorporate the most up-to-date diagnostic and treatment guidelines into patient care."
There are between 4.5 and 6 million patients affected by Alzheimer's disease in the U.S., and within 30 years that number is likely to at least double, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The organization's local chapter estimates that in the eight counties of Western New York, there are approximately 55,000 cases of Alzheimer's, a
figure which the organization says may not reflect the full extent of the disease.
"Alzheimer's disease is a major public health burden," says Szigeti. "Current treatments do not cure Alzheimer's, but they can help people stay at a good, functional level for a longer period of time if they are diagnosed early."
One of the UB center's strengths, she says, is its ultidisciplinary approach to this very challenging disease.
Patients and families who come to the center will be evaluated by a team of physicians and health care providers, including neurologists, neuropsychologists, social workers and nurses.
The center's four-step evaluation process takes place over several weeks, during which a patient will see a neurologist, undergo blood tests, provide a detailed medical history with the help of family members and undergo brain imaging, as well as comprehensive neuropsychological testing. The process is designed to differentiate between normal aging, mild cognitive impairment and various types of dementia.
In order to reach the best conclusions regarding treatment and
prognosis, the team will hold a "consensus conference" at which all of the health care providers will discuss the patient's case.
At a follow-up visit with the patient and family, the neurologist will then discuss the results of the testing and diagnosis, as well as treatment options. Finally, the patient and family will meet with a social worker who will assess the patient's living situation and provide counseling on how best to manage the patient's condition. These recommendations will then be sent to the referring physician.
Szigeti pursues an active research agenda, with nearly $1 million in external funding from the Alzheimer's Association and a prestigious Patient-Oriented Research Career Development award from the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health.
Her work focuses on the genetics behind Alzheimer's disease.
"Alzheimer's is a very heterogeneous disorder with a strong genetic component," she says. "Our hypothesis is that a genetic background will enable us to better classify subgroups of the disease and show us pathways for possible new medications."
Genetic studies, she adds, will also help aid the design of treatments that can either delay onset or prolong the earlier stage of the disease when symptoms are very mild and patients are still relatively high-functioning.
"If you can try to delay the age of onset by five years or even by two years, that would be so much better for the family and for public health," she says.
Szigeti has returned to Buffalo after having done her neurology residency at UB; she also conducted postdoctoral research at Beth Israel Deaconess, Harvard Medical School and molecular genetics research at Baylor College of Medicine.
Families of Alzheimer's patients who would like to know more about the center, or make an appointment, should call 716-859-3484, Monday through Thursday.