Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in Western societies. Approximately 24 million people worldwide have this condition. With the growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s, researchers continue conducting studies to find new interventions and treatments. Here’s what’s new in Alzheimer’s research.
Current Treatments, Temporary Solution.
Current Alzheimer’s treatments help to temporarily improve symptoms of memory loss and problems with thinking and reasoning. These treatments boost the performance of chemicals in the brain that carry information from one brain cell to another. Unfortunately, these treatments do not affect disease progression because they don’t stop brain cells’ underlying decline and death.
Research Approaches Targeted to Disease Progression
A growing understanding of how Alzheimer’s disrupts the brain has led to potential treatments that short-circuit basic disease processes. Experts are hopeful these can stop or significantly delay disease progression. The following strategies are some examples of what’s currently being studied:
- Preventing or Removing Plaques– Beta-amyloid plaques are a characteristic sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Strategies aimed at beta-amyloid include:
- Monoclonal antibodies may prevent beta-amyloid from clumping into plaques, remove plaques that have formed, and help the body clear the beta-amyloid from the brain.
- Saracatinib, a drug initially developed as a possible cancer treatment, showed the ability to reverse some memory loss in preclinical studies.
- Several therapies are being studied to block specific enzymes that may reduce the amount of beta-amyloid formed in the brain.
- Preventing tau tangles– Another common brain abnormality of Alzheimer’s is when tau proteins twist into microscopic fibers and tangles.
- Researchers are looking at a way to prevent tau from forming tangles through tau aggregation inhibitors and vaccines.
- Heart/head connection– Growing evidence suggests dementia appears to increase due to many conditions that damage the heart or arteries. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Research efforts are looking into:
- Evaluating if current medications that treat vascular conditions can help reduce risk.
- Conducting studies that involve us learning more about the heart and head connection to develop potential new therapies.
- The impact healthier lifestyle changes have on preventing or delaying disease onset.
- Hormones– Gaining a better understanding of the relationship between estrogen and cognitive function.
You Could Help Advance the Next Generation of Alzheimer’s Treatments
In June 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aducanumab to treat some cases of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the first drug approved in the U.S. to treat Alzheimer’s by targeting and removing amyloid plaques in the brain. The approval was made under the condition that further studies be conducted to confirm the drug’s benefit. Experts also need to identify which patients may benefit from the drug.
Recruiting and retaining clinical trial participants is now one of the greatest obstacles to developing the next generation of Alzheimer’s treatments. Individuals with dementia, caregivers, and healthy volunteers are all needed to participate in clinical studies focused on Alzheimer’s and all other dementias.