Alzheimer's disease (AD) was first described a little more than 100 years ago. It is the most common cause of dementia with an estimated prevalence of 30 million people worldwide, a number that is expected to quadruple in 40 years. There currently is no effective treatment that delays the onset or slows the progression of AD. However, major scientific advances in the areas of genetics, biochemistry, cell biology, and neuroscience over the past 25 years have changed the way we think about AD. This review discusses some of the challenges to translating these basic molecular and cellular discoveries into clinical therapies. Current information suggests that if the disease is detected before the onset of overt symptoms, it is possible that treatments based on knowledge of underlying pathogenesis can and will be effective.