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Treatments For Alzheimer's Disease: Promising Breakthroughs

Updated: Mar 7

✍🏻 Emily Brontë (pseudonym) | Freelance Content Writer

 

In this article, we will look at some of the most recent advances in Alzheimer's disease medications, the challenges that have been encountered in their development, and the route forward in the fight against this disease.

 

What is Dementia? 🧠

Dementia is a group of symptoms caused by a range of diseases that affect the brain.

  • Confusion

  • Disorientation

  • Memory loss

  • Difficulties with day-to-day activities

  • Speech problems

  • Struggles with decision-making

  • Personality changes including aggression & anxiety


Around the world, there are around 55 million people living with dementia. This figure is predicted to rise to 139 million by 2050.


Dementia Statistics

 

What is Alzheimer's Disease? 🧠

Alzheimer's disease, a devastating neurodegenerative disorder, is the most common type of dementia.

Alzheimer's disease most commonly affects people over the age of 65.


Over the years, researchers have been tirelessly working to find effective treatments that can slow down or halt the progression of this debilitating condition.


Several innovative medicines have recently demonstrated encouraging outcomes, giving patients, their families, and the scientific community hope.


Despite the optimistic developments, there are substantial problems that must be addressed. The potential adverse effects and the necessity for early detection and action to maximise their effectiveness, pose obstacles.


 

What are researchers trying to target with Alzheimer's treatments? 🔬

Researchers have been working on medicines that eliminate or prevent creation of plaques, that are hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.


Destruction of these plaques has been shown to reduce clinical decline (symptom worsening), but it does not cure the disease.


In June 2021, a drug, known as aducanumab, received accelerated approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, after being the first therapy to show promise in eradicating the plaques (more scientifically known as amyloid beta plaques).


However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) did not approve the drug, due to a lack of clinical evidence. Whilst this is disheartening, this drug and the research behind it, provide a promising basis for Alzheimer's research and future treatment development.


Another drug known as lecanemab, which also targets the plaques, is proving more promising in the treatment of early Alzheimer's (the early stages of the disease with less damage to the brain and fewer or less dramatic symptoms) patients.


It was shown to decrease cognitive decline (diminishing of proper brain function and increase in dementia symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, or disorientation) by 27%, over 18 months, compared with patients who were given a placebo (a fake pill used to test the effectiveness of a treatment; the patient does not know whether they are taken the treatment or the placebo (this is known as a 'blind' trial)).


Yet, there has also been controversy with this drug, due to its expense.


 

What other hallmarks of Alzheimer's are researchers targeting? 🏥


The entanglement of a protein known as tau, has been found to impede the normal functioning of brain cells.

Tau is another hallmark of Alzheimer's (like the plaques) and several techniques are being investigated in order to target and inhibit the buildup of the tau protein.


Anti-tau antibodies (proteins that detect harmful substances), small compounds, and gene therapies are among the possible treatments.


Although preliminary findings from preclinical investigations are intriguing, translating them into successful human medicines remains a hurdle.



Other factors that may contribute to Alzheimer's disease that researchers are investigating as potential targets for treatment:

  • Chronic inflammation Researchers are looking for ways to modify the immune response and minimise inflammation. In observational studies, anti-inflammatory medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have shown potential advantages. More research is needed, however, to determine their long-term efficacy and safety.

  • Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity Stimulating the production of new nerve cells, and boosting brain plasticity (the brain's ability to grow and change) change are promising Alzheimer's disease treatment options. In animal models, experimental therapies utilising stem cells (special human cells that are able to develop into many different cell types), growth hormones, and brain training have proven favourable effects on memory and cognition. These techniques, however, are still in the early stages of development.

  • Combination Therapies Alzheimer's disease is very complex so experts are looking into the potential of combination therapy which involves using multiple treatments together. Combining techniques like targeting plaques, decreasing inflammation, and encouraging nerve cell growth may have combined effects and improve therapeutic success. Optimising medicine combinations, recognising potential interactions, and assuring patient safety, on the other hand, pose considerable hurdles.

  • Precision Medicine and Biomarkers Precision medicine advances and the development of accurate biomarkers (biological indicators or signs of disease) hold great potential for tailored Alzheimer's disease therapy. Biomarkers, such as cerebrospinal fluid (liquid that flows in and around the brain and spinal cord to protect them from injury and provide nutrition) and neuroimaging techniques (methods of photographing the brain), allow for early disease detection and tracking. This enables focused interventions and the measurement of treatment efficacy (how well a treatment works). However, developing standardised biomarkers and making them available in clinical settings remain substantial challenges.


 

What does the outlook for Alzheimer's treatments look like? 🏥


While there will be challenges and obstacles ahead, there is optimism among scientists, patients, and their families. Recent breakthroughs have paved the way for additional research and development, spurring the pursuit of more effective medicines.


Ongoing collaboration, research investment, and support from governments and organisations can create a future in which Alzheimer's disease is better understood, efficiently treated, and ultimately prevented.


While much work remains to be done, advances in Alzheimer's disease medicines are a monument to the steadfast dedication of researchers, healthcare professionals, and advocates around the world.


 
Emily Bronte (pseudonym), Content Writer at Grace Writes

Written by: Emily Bronte (pseudonym) (Content Writer)


Grace Pountney, Editor-in-Chief at Grace Writes

Edited by: Grace Pountney (Editor-in-Chief)


 

Science Suspicions

Each week, at Science Snapshot, we answer your Science questions!

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Q: What are other causes of dementia?

A: Huntingdon's disease and Parkinson's disease, are brain disorders that can cause dementia. Read more about other causes of dementia here.


 


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