Finding a Cure for Alzheimer’s disease

April 23, 2015

Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia, is currently the 6th highest cause of death in the US, killing more than half a million people every year. That’s more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And yet the National Institutes of Health puts $586M a year towards Alzheimer’s research, compared with the $5B it allocates towards cancer study.

Pretty powerful statistics – so with that kind of funding shortage, how close can scientists be to finding a cure for a disease that causes between 60-80% of all dementia cases? According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers are cautiously optimistic about formulating treatments that can halt or significantly delay the progression of Alzheimer’s. While developing new medications can be a slow process, there’s reason for hope with several potentially promising new treatment areas:

The Cardio Connection: Scientists believe that brain health appears closely tied to heart health, and are studying the apparent increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s in people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. They’re looking at whether current medications treating those conditions might be used to either treat Alzheimer’s or lower people’s risk for developing it, as well as whether new potential medication targets might be discovered through studying the heart-brain connection at the molecular level. Researchers are also considering whether heart-healthy lifestyle choices around diet and exercise might successfully prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Targeting Plaques: The clumping of beta-amyloid protein (plaque) has long been associated with the development of Alzheimer’s. Researchers are now studying the effects of introducing antibodies from outside sources (through donated blood, or lab-manufactured) that will attack beta-amyloid protein and clear it from the brain. They’re also exploring the development of production blockers that would reduce or possibly prevent the brain’s production of beta-amyloid.

Detangling the Tau: The brains of Alzheimer’s patients often demonstrate a neurological phenomenon where the protein tau twists into microscopic tangles causing a critical cell transport system to break down. Scientists are currently exploring ways to prevent those tangles from forming. One study, for example, suggests that chronic and prolonged sleep deprivation may cause such anomalies, while other research submits that regular caffeine consumption may prevent tangles from forming.

Want to learn more about the latest treatment possibilities? The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation is an excellent resource for current research and advances against Alzheimer’s and dementia.