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Climbing a mountain for Alzheimer's disease

SFU Public Relations
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Faisal Beg's view of Alzheimer's disease may be microscopic but his drive to help eradicate it is as big as any mountain.

That's why the Simon Fraser University engineering professor is climbing one -- Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro -- in September.

Beg is one of 10 hikers making the nearly 6,000 metre trek up one of the world's highest mountains on behalf of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Their goal is to raise funds and awareness of the disease, which afflicts close to half a million Canadians including more than 70,000 in B.C., and those numbers could more than double over the next three decades.

Beg studies the early detection of the disease, which gradually "eats" away brain tissue, starting with the memory, then reducing logic and eventually the capacity to carry out daily functions.

"Right now there is no good way to detect the disease," says Beg, who studies signatures in MRI brain scans of those with the disease and compares them with those of healthy brains.

"We work at tracking the earliest stages and build mathematical tools to measure changes in the shape, volume and form of brain structure."

Beg, originally from Bhopal, India, lives at the base of Coquitlam's Burke Mountain and became an avid hiker shortly after coming to Canada. "One thing I've learned about hiking," he says, "it's a great leveler, just you and the mountain. There's a real sense of serenity.

"I'm not looking at this hike so much as a personal challenge," he adds, though he hopes to make it the first of a series of global mountain climbs. 

"In my daily work, I've come to realize the great challenges that are faced by caregivers and families whose lives are turned upside down by this disease. It's a way to show my understanding and passion, driven by my own scientific perspective."

Beg, who is paying his own way to Africa, hopes to raise $10,000 for the society. To contribute to his trek and learn more see


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