Mapping Alzheimer's chronicles the more-than-30-year collaboration between renowned neurologists Drs. Francisco Lopera and Kenneth Kosik, a feat nearly unheard of in the intense and highly competitive world of science. It explores the evolving relationship of this unlikely pair with an entire community in Colombia, where multiple generations of families have been struck with a form of Alzheimer's that tends to surface before age 50. By contrast, the disease typically develops in those 65 and older and the risk increases with age.
When their teams at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Antioquia in Colombia make a series of groundbreaking discoveries about a genetic mutation that causes the families' disease, a sense of hope emerges among the residents of the towns and cities where generations of their loved ones have died prematurely without knowing why. And as word of the research findings spreads, families in other parts of the country have begun to wonder whether they, too, carry the mutation and invite the scientists to investigate.
With its verité style, Mapping Alzheimer's gives the audience a front-row view of the scientific process as it unfolds. The documentary follows the research journeys of Drs. Kosik and Lopera and their teams as they travel to far-flung communities by horseback, small planes, and river boats, to meet families whose members may carry the mutation.
Anticipation builds as the neuroscientists meet with those at high risk for the early-onset form of the disease and ask them to participate in drug trials intended to prevent its onset. Why should we care about what happens to a group of people in Colombia with a rare, inherited disease? Because breakthroughs in treatments for them may result in therapies for the 152 million people in the rest of the world who are projected to develop the later-onset form of the disease by 2050.