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Share shares Mrs Cuartas' other son, Oderis, 50, can only remember to buy one item at a time from the shop. Many of the 5, villagers who live in Yarumal have inherited the mutation that pre-disposes them to Alzheimer's and intermarriage has accelerated its spread. It was inherited from the village's Basque country ancestors, and those from the Antioquia area of Colombia now call themselves 'paisa', meaning countrymen. A single parent can pass down the mutation, located on the 14th chromosome — which causes a devastating form of early-onset Alzheimer's.
Those who have the mutation have a 50 per cent chance of developing Alzheimer's, sometimes as early as 32 years old. The disease begins with forgetfulness but slowly progresses to being disorientated, having delusional ideas and being aggressive. In some families, parents and children have progressed through the illness together, from memory loss to dementia.
But a neurologist named Francisco Lopera, who grew up in Yarumal, hopes there is a blessing in the village's curse. Thirty years ago, Dr Lopera, the head of the neuroscience program at the University of Antioquia, set himself an ambitious mission: to find a treatment to prevent Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia in the world.
Our strategy is to intervene before the disease destroys the brain,' Dr Lopera said. Alzheimer's disease is caused by parts of the brain wasting away. It is not known exactly what causes this process to begin, although people with the condition have been found to have abnormal amounts of proteins called amyloid plaques, fibres and a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain. These reduce the effectiveness of the brain's nerve calls and gradually destroying them.
Over time this damage spreads to several areas of the brain, such as the grey matter responsible for processing thoughts and the hippocampus responsible for memory. Francisco Lopera, a neurologist who grew up in Yarumal, has set himself an ambitious mission: to find a treatment to prevent Alzheimer's. He is trialling a new drug on of the village's residents For several months, Dr Lopera been testing an experimental drug on a group of healthy patients aged 30 to 60 years old who have the paisa mutation.