- Paul Organe and Andrew Webb
A new drug, a blood test and a specialized village are some of the things that have given hope to people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the last four years.
And there could be more on the way.
In the framework of World Alzheimer’s Day, on September 21, we list four significant advances that have occurred in recent years.
What is Alzheimer’s diseaseandimer?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults and affects more than 55 million people, according to the organization Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).
bears the doctor’s name alois alzheimerwho in 1906 noted changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died with symptoms including memory loss and language problems.
“Research is improving the way we diagnose, prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease,” Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, tells the BBC.
“Many years of funding pioneering research and supporting brilliant people with bold ideas have brought us to this point, with several potential treatments for Alzheimer’s on the horizon.”
1. “Historic” research on genetic influence (2022)
A “landmark” study this year associated 42 additional genes with Alzheimer’s disease for the first time.
Scientists from eight countries, including France, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, looked at the genetic material of 111,000 people with Alzheimer’s.
They identified 75 genes linked to an increased risk of developing the disease, including 42 that had not previously been associated.
These findings, published in the journal Nature Genetics, suggest that Alzheimer’s is caused by many factors, with evidence that a specific protein is involved.
Study co-author Professor Julie Williams described the work as “a major step forward in our mission to understand Alzheimer’s which may lead to various treatments needed to delay or prevent the disease.”
“The results support our growing understanding that Alzheimer’s disease is an extremely complex conditionwith multiple triggers, biological pathways, and cell types involved in its development,” he said.
Other research has shown that lifestyle factors, such as smoking and certain diets, influence who might develop Alzheimer’s. But specialists believe that Genetics pose the greatest risk.
2. The Alzheimer’s Village (2020)
A new approach to care for and treat Alzheimer’s is to build specially designed villas so that patients live an apparently normal life, but always under the surveillance of caregivers.
France created a dedicated Alzheimer’s disease village in 2020, based on a “dementia” village in the Netherlands.
“Landais Alzheimer” is located in Dax, in the southwest of France, and has a grocery store, hairdresser and even offers music recitals.
It was designed to resemble a traditional medieval village, as if it were a fortified city.
His architect told the newspaper Le Monde that the village had no visible fences, but many safe paths well integrated into the social and cultural life of the city.
Madeleine Elissalde, 82, was one of the first to move there.
“It’s like being at home”Elissald said. “We are well taken care of.”
“His memory loss is less severe,” says his granddaughter Aurore. “She is happy, she has rediscovered how to enjoy life.”
One of the consequences of setting up this Alzheimer’s village is that people who live nearby seem to be changing their point of view about people living with Alzheimer’s disease.
An August 2022 Alzheimer’s Association survey of residents in the village’s host city showed a drop in feeling rejected by people with Alzheimer’s after the village opened to the public, compared to another city without a village. town with those characteristics.
3. First new Alzheimer’s drug in 20 years (2021)
The first new Alzheimer’s drug in nearly 20 years was approved by regulators in the United States in June 2021.
Aducanumab It targets the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, rather than its symptoms.
In March 2019, the final phase of the international clinical trials of Aducanumab, in which some 3,000 patients participated, was stopped.
This happened because an analysis showed that the drug, given as a monthly infusion, did not improve the slowing of memory decline and thinking problems.
But later that year, the US manufacturer Biogen analyzed more data and concluded that the drug works, as long as it is administered in higher doses.
The company also said that it significantly reduced cognitive decline.
However, in December 2021 the European Medicines Agency (EMA) rejected its approval.
The EMA said that Aducanumab does not appear to be effective in treating adults with early-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms.
At the time of its approval in the US, several scientists said there was little trial evidence of benefit, apart from pointing to the amyloida protein that forms abnormal clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
The bottom line is that while the new drug is on the market in the US, there are questions about its effectiveness elsewhere.
4. Blood tests before the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms (2019)
Scientists said in 2019 that they could accurately identify people on the way to developing Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear.
They bet this could help drug trials progress. American scientists were able to use amyloid levels in the blood to help predict its accumulation in the brain.
Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Missouri, whose study was published in the journal Neurology, measured the levels of amyloid beta protein in the blood of 158 adults older than 50 years. They wanted to see if brain scans showed similar levels.
The scans showed similar levels, but only 88% of the time, which is not precise enough for a diagnostic test.
When the researchers combined this information with two other risk factors for the disease – being older than 65 and people with a genetic variant called APOE4 – the accuracy of the blood test improved to 94%.
The BBC quoted UK experts in 2019 as saying the results were promising and a step towards reliable blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease and accelerating dementia research.
However, experts also warn against dependence on blood tests.
“Several dementia screening tests have been marketed directly to consumers. None of these tests have been scientifically proven to be accurate,” says the Alzheimer’s Association in the US.
The organization recommends a diagnosis by a doctor who evaluates a number of factors.
“For this and other reasons, the Alzheimer’s Association believes that home screening tests cannot and should not be used as a substitute for a comprehensive examination by a qualified physician“.
In short, there is the possibility of blood tests to detect Alzheimer’s disease, but a doctor’s diagnosis of the behavior is a crucial goal to determine if symptoms are present.
The future of Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment
There is more of 150 drugs in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, according to Sara Imarisio.
But he cautions that it takes time for them to be approved and ready for a patient to use.
“In the future, prevention and the combination of pharmacological treatments and lifestyle changes may be the most effective strategy to limit the impact of dementia. While new drugs take many years to develop, lifestyle changes are available to everyone,” she says.
In conclusion, reducing your risk through the adoption of various healthy lifestyle measures will help decrease your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
However, as medical science advances, it should also play an increasing role in helping to combat this major cause of dementia.
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