At a very young age in my life I watched my grandmother suffer from Alzheimers, so a breakthrough this big is very near to my heart. Alzheimers is a form of dementia and it is a progressive mental deterioration. This disease is ranked sixth as the leading cause of death in the United States. The main symptoms that go along with this are memory loss and confusion but also include to mood swings, depression, and eventually the lost of ability to combine muscle movements. By the end of someones fight with Alzheimers they lose the ability to preform simple tasks.
What goes on in the brain?
Scientists have observed that the damage to the brain starts a decade or more before symptoms begin to show. During this time they may not experience any symptoms, but toxic changes are occurring. Abnormal deposits of proteins form amyloid plaques and tau tangles throughout the brain. Then the healthy neurons stop functioning, lose connections, and then die off. This process begins in the hippocampus, where memories are formed. As it grows, more and more parts of the brain are infected until the damage is significant and brain tissue has shrunk.
Is there hope?
Larger clinical studies are currently being done because although promising, this drug has only been tested on 165 people and results could change in a larger group. The results from this first study show that an antibody called aducanumab can reduce amyloid in the brain. Amyloid-beta are the proteins that form in the brain of people with Alzheimers. When this drug is delivered by an intravenous injection, the aducanumab antibodies destroy the Amyloid-beta plaques. The more of the drug administrated the more Amyloid-beta plaques were being destroyed.
This picture shows the brain scans of a few of the 165 people in the trial. These scans show the reduction of the red, Amyloid-beta, when people were administered the antibody. Compare to the placebo.
What does all this mean?
Although proven that this drug can reduce the Amyloid-beta plaques in the brain, the next question is whether or not the drug can preserve thinking and memory skills. This study was not designed to test this, although the ones who took the drug showed less decline on these tests while the participants that received the placebo showed more decline.
Also, during the trial 27 of the patients had a reaction to the drug known as ARIA. There are no side effects to this although it can cause headaches or more serious trouble in some people. This reaction was more common at higher doses.
This research trial was definitely a step in the right direction but there are still a few kinks to work out before this drug can go on the market. First, they need to continue this research in a much larger clinical trial. 165 people is promising but beneficial effects could disappear in a larger group. After this they need to conduct a experiment to test the participants thinking and memory skills before and after the trial. This will tell us for sure whether or not the drug can preserve these skills. Finally, scientist need to find the most effective dose with the fewest side effects to perfect the drug. This research is very promising and i’m interested to see where it goes.