STAMFORD - Two Alzheimer's specialists in Stamford say they have hopes that clinical trials on patients in southwestern Connecticut and elsewhere will lead to advances soon.

The new awareness comes after the revelation that actor Gene Wilder battled the disease for three years before his death on Sunday.

Alzheimer's advocates say they appreciate that Wilder's family made it public that he had Alzheimer's because their disclosure naturally brings more awareness.

With more than 5 million people battling the disease in the United States, including  73,000 in Connecticut, advocates say they need all the awareness and funding they can get toward advances and a cure.

"What we're looking at now are medicines that get put into an IV, go up into the brain and actually pull the bad plaque out of the brain," says Dr. Peter McAllister, of the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache. "And in rats and early-stage human studies, it seems to stabilize or reverse the dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease."

Gene Wilder's family says he was diagnosed fairly early in the disease and was able to decide for himself what he wanted to make public. They say he decided not to disclose he had Alzheimer's because he didn't want kids who knew him as Willy Wonka to be upset.