More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2017 and according the Alzheimer’s Association, that number could rise to 16 million by 2050.1 The disease kills more people than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined2, and the devastating effects ripple out, impacting loved ones near and far. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Supplementally Speaking is highlighting three current areas of research and sharing renewed hope for those with the disease.
While much past research related to new Alzheimer’s treatments has been focused on commonly seen amaloid-beta deposits in the brain, scientists struggle to gain traction with drugs focused on this area.3 While testing shows decrease in the deposits, it does not demonstrate reduced symptoms. Many researchers are turning their attention toward brain inflammation –another trademark of the disease—as a cause instead of being only a byproduct.4 Studies in mice show promise in drugs designed to target immune cells called microglia, which tend to be overactive in Alzheimer’s patients. Initial results demonstrated reduced memory and behavioral problems and also prevented brain cell communication errors commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients.5
Epigenetics, simply defined, is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off. Epigenetics affect how genes are interpreted by bodily cells and in turn, how those cells react.6 Understanding how certain genes are turned on and off and all possible on/off combinations could, in theory, determine cures for many diseases and ailments.7 Epigenetic alterations have been identified in Alzheimer’s disease, and more research is being conducted to further understanding and therapeutic applications.8
Twenty-five years ago, a diagnosis of HIV meant certain death, but today, thanks to pharmaceutical advances and combination therapy, those diagnosed can go on to live long lives.9 This same story has played out in relation to cancer and heart disease and in recent years, the probability of treating Alzheimer’s disease similarly has become popular. Thanks to a joint effort called the Alzheimer's Combination Therapy Opportunities grant initiative, $2 million will be provided in 2017 for analyzing combination therapies that target two or more processes believed to be related to Alzheimer’s disease. The combination approach may utilize drugs currently approved to treat other conditions, which could limit time-to-market for approved combinations.10
1,2 “Latest Alzheimer's Facts and Figures.” Latest Facts & Figures Report | Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Association.
3 “Alzheimer's Disease and Inflammation: Pritam Das.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
4,5 “Blocking Brain Inflammation 'Halts Alzheimer's Disease'.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Jan. 2016.
6 “A Super Brief and Basic Explanation of Epigenetics for Total Beginners.” What Is Epigenetics?, What Is Epigenetics?, 17 Oct. 2017.
7, 8 Semedo, PhD Daniela. “Alzheimer's Review Highlights Importance of Epigenetic Changes.” Alzheimer's News Today, BioNews Services, LLC, 7 Jan. 2016.
9, 10 Hendrix, James. “A New Approach to Alzheimer's.” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, 23 May 2017.