It seems that every day there are new discoveries in the field of Alzheimer’s disease. From new treatments to ways to screen for the disease, the condition is in the news as frequently as some politicians. How reliable are these findings, though? Are they published in reputable journals and are they anything more than snake oil? Here are four of the most recent new pieces about Alzheimer’s disease and a look into how likely they are to make an impact on patients’ lives.
The News: An article published in Forbes points to a research article in the scholarly journal Nature that studies the effect of aducanumab, an antibody that has shown promise in attacking the amyloid plaques that form between nerve cells in Alzheimer’s. In a double-blind, four-year trial, the infusion of the antibody showed marked improvement in the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in those with moderate disease indicators.
The Background: The Nature research paper, though compelling, has several flaws that most Alzheimer’s trials suffer from: the sample size. This study, though well planned, only tested the antibody on 145 patients and all were pooled from the United States. Although the study points to positive responses, the research is far from becoming a treatment for Alzheimer’s.
Implications: The study into aducanumab is certainly intriguing, but it is not convincing. Although it offers hope for those with Alzheimer’s, it is not a cure just yet. A larger study is necessary to even bring this treatment into trials, let alone present it for approval by the FDA. While interesting, the breakthrough may not be the miracle cure patients are looking for.
Indicative Gene Signatures
The News: According to an article published on ScienceDaily, a group of researchers have found that younger people with a particular gene signature can show a risk for Alzheimer’s early in life. This gene signature makes parts of the brain more susceptible to the proteins that form in the condition, causing the plaques that are so devastating to the neurons when Alzheimer’s begins in earnest.
The Background: The research was conducted by the University of Cambridge, and it was published in the journal Science Advances. The researchers studied the brain tissues from 500 healthy individuals and found this gene signature common to those that are found in Alzheimer’s patients. This pattern repeated itself in the healthy brain tissue and the Alzheimer’s identified brain tissue alike, though it does not indicate why the patients with healthy brain tissue had the signature and did not have the condition.
The Implications: As with most studies, more research needs to be done to plug up the holes in this study. Why are normal brains showing the same markings as Alzheimer’s brains? Could this be a coincidence? In any case, gene therapy is in its infancy so finding genes that are indicative of Alzheimer’s, while intriguing, does not actually help cure the disease in the immediate future.
Fast-Tracking BACE Inhibitors
The News: Unfortunately, drugs to treat Alzheimer’s are difficult to come by. One drug, named AZD3293, has shown some promise in treating mild to moderate cases of the condition by reducing the amount of amyloid buildup around the neurons. Although it has been fast-tracked, it is nowhere near ready to become a treatment for Alzheimer’s, as this article in the Wall Street Journal relates.
The Background: This new drug is supported by both Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca. The two companies are rivals in the pharmaceutical industry, but since the search for a drug is so elusive, the two have teamed up. They have even agreed to split profits from the drug, which is nearly unheard of. Unfortunately, other Alzheimer’s test drugs have caused severe liver issues and other problems in humans, and none have been viable as a drug to reverse or inhibit the disease, besides Aricept and Namenda.
The Implications: Drug companies are getting closer to finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s, and this fast track is promising. It shows that the FDA is convinced enough to give the green light and allow the companies to proceed. However, the search for a treatment still remains murky, and even this fast-tracked drug can pose problems. Although it can be a bright light in the darkness of Alzheimer’s, it could be another frustrating dead end.
The News: Instead of trying one method of combating Alzheimer’s, the researchers at Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, California, are trying as many as five different methods to treat the disease, according to an article published in the Boston Herald. Among these, the use of the intravenous immunoglobulin antibodies, the effects of vitamin D on memory, and the ethnic implications of Alzheimer’s are all under investigation. All of these research projects are ongoing, but none have yet reached the point of publication.
The Background: Although this may seem like a scattershot method of looking for a cure, it actually makes sense. The current drugs for Alzheimer’s are woefully deficient. At best, they can give the patient an extra year of memory health, but they cannot stop the relentless march of the disease. They are inadequate at best, and the frantic search for some treatment means that this sort of research is the only way the medical profession is going to find something that works.
The Implications: Something in these research studies in Sacramento may end up being the cure for Alzheimer’s, or it may end up being something that slows its progress . . . or it may end up another dead end. The implication of this sort of study is the hope for a cure. It isn’t going to help patients now, and it probably won’t help patients in the near future. Someday, though, this sort of research will help patients. With the dedication of people like the researchers in Sacramento and across the country, a solution will eventually be found. It hasn’t been found yet, but everyone still keeps looking. That’s what counts.