November 25, 2019—When it comes to dementia, most are familiar with Alzheimer’s disease and its devastating impact on patients and families. Yet Alzheimer’s is not the only disease that wreaks havoc on one’s mind.
In the U.S, 1.4 million people are affected by Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia, which is widely underdiagnosed. Additionally, 10-20% of dementia cases in the nation are caused by frontotemporal lobar degeneration, or FTLD, an umbrella term for a group of neurodegenerative disorders that can affect personality, behavior, memory and language beginning in one’s 40s.
At the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Bradley Boeve, M.D., who earned his medical degree at the UF College of Medicine in 1991, devotes his days to studying both Lewy body dementia and FTLD. Neither disease has any current effective treatment, and those affected suffer from poor quality of life. For some with Lewy body dementia or FTLD, less than a decade may pass between an initial diagnosis and death.
The dire need to help those suffering from these neurodegenerative disorders keeps Boeve motivated throughout his many involvements within the field of behavioral neurology. In the midst of unknowns, Boeve keeps a clear head by focusing on one patient at a time.
“My mentors at the UF College of Medicine instilled in me the philosophy that the most gratifying aspects of medicine revolve around positively influencing every patient, one patient at a time,” Boeve says.
Boeve currently serves as chair of the division of behavioral neurology within the Mayo Clinic department of neurology, and he is the Little Family Foundation professor of Lewy body dementia. He is also co-principal investigator for a research consortium on FTLD, a five-year research grant awarded to the Mayo Clinic and the University of California, San Francisco by the National Institutes of Health. The consortium’s goal is to foster the development of interventions that can improve symptoms and quality of life, slow the disorders’ rate of progression, delay the onset and prevent the development of symptoms for those at risk of developing these “prime of life disorders.”
“These disorders affect the person’s ability to work, enjoy life and contribute to their community while also seriously impacting their relationships with family members and friends,” Boeve says. “While there is still plenty more to do to improve, there have been several FTLD clinical trials that have finished, with unfortunately no treatments shown to be effective, yet, some currently in progress and many more planned to begin in the next few years. There is enormous optimism among FTLD investigators for one or more therapies to be proven efficacious and safe over the years ahead.”
Boeve is also the principal investigator for the newly launched Lewy Body Dementia Association Research Centers of Excellence program. Through this program, the Mayo Clinic is coordinating a network of institutions at 25 academic medical research centers that will host clinical trials and work to improve the level of clinical care given over the course of Lewy body dementia treatment. Boeve says clinical trials and collaboration across institutions are both essential to finding interventions that will improve quality of life for those affected.
Though his work is complicated and his patients are desperate for the development of effective treatments, Boeve finds his field both rewarding and fascinating.
“There are few things as interesting than the brain — the underpinnings that are known and particularly those that are unknown regarding how humans think, act and feel. It’s rewarding to be involved in the academic pursuits of attempting to advance science in many of these devastating diseases,” Boeve says. “Contributing to team efforts are most likely to lead to cumulative advances in science and treatment the fastest, and this is what our patients and families expect.”