Experts Hold Hope in Alzheimer’s Research Even As Drugs Fail

Even as the looming impact of Alzheimer’s disease on society becomes a more and more dire health concern, wellness experts are still optimistic about the potential of research into the disease. Leading scientists on early detection and treatment for Alzheimer’s have even said that they are on the verge of substantial advances, with a large slate of Alzheimer’s drugs undergoing human trials.


A spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology Dr. John C. Morris, a professor and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, commented, ‘There has never been a period in which we had more potential drugs to alter the disease course of Alzheimer’s. We have lots of highly promising drug candidates.’ The main focus of these drugs is amyloid, which is a protein that clumps in your brain when your wellbeing has been affected by Alzheimer’s.


According to William H. Thies, chief medical and science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, ‘Many scientists believe eliminating that accumulation will eliminate Alzheimer’s. We’ve seen amyloid accumulation as one of the key markers in the development of Alzheimer’s. It’s really the first step in taking the basic science of Alzheimer’s and using it to develop therapeutics.’ However, of the first anti-amyloid drugs to be tested in humans, three have failed to produce results. None of the AN-1792, Flurizan or tramiprosate treatments did anything to significantly improve the symptoms of people with Alzheimer’s.


Morris reasoned that these drugs were tested on people in the advanced stages of the disease, and so they might prove to be effective if you take them before your Alzheimer’s progresses too far. The problem with this justification, however, it that it means we need a way to detect Alzheimer’s disease early in its development or even to flag people who are at risk for developing the disease. Both Morris and Thies allow that, so far, the only means doctors have of diagnosing Alzheimer’s is wait for symptoms to appear, and by then the damage has already been done.


Nonetheless, hope is still at hand as scans and tests are in development that could lead to the early detection of Alzheimer’s. Morris noted that researchers are identifying substances that bind with amyloid deposits and make them visible to imaging scans, as well as discovering genetic and biological markers that could indicate that a person is at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s. He asserted, ‘The excitement in the field is, yes, new imaging technology, and studies of amyloid beta in the spinal fluid of elderly and middle-age people do seem to identify people who, if they continue to live, will develop dementia. This will set the stage for targeting people at high risk of developing dementia if they live long enough.’


Thies weighed in, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that, as an effective therapy emerges that slows downthe course of the disease, we will find the marker for it. The two are linked almost arm-in-arm and will develop together. Advances in one will drag the other along.’ But what about those wellness experts who question the direction of research? Given the failures of early trials, many are concerned that efforts have been too tightly focused on eliminating amyloid from the brain. Thies responded, ‘People who work in the field raise the question, “Should we be doing all this amyloid work?” but it’s the most mature of the ideas so you have to follow it through.’ He added, ‘With the aging of our population, we are going to have an immense increase in Alzheimer’s disease over the next 40 years. If we don’t deal with this, it could bankrupt our government and wreck our health-care system.’

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