Alzheimer's Research News Round-Up

Alzheimer’s research news today

Alzheimer’s research has been frustratingly slow for the 5.5 million people living with in the disease in the United States.

So far, most drug trials have targeted beta-amyloid, the protein that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, no drug trial against amyloid has been successful so far. Now, researchers are looking at fresh approaches against amyloid as well as developing treatments against new targets.

Beta-amyloid

Disappointing Alzheimer's research news dominated the space in early 2017. Several major pharmaceutical companies reported disappointing results from trials targeting beta-amyloid. But the majority of the neuroscience community believes amyloid remains the most promising Alzheimer’s hypothesis.

One theory is that clearing out amyloid once memory loss has already occurred may be too late to make a difference. Current trials are attempting to target amyloid much earlier in the disease, before most symptoms even appear.

Microglia

Another target researchers are now looking at involves the brain’s immune cells, called microglia. These cells clear out cellular debris in the brain. They may protect neurons by cleaning up potentially toxic protein clumps, like tau tangles.

Genetic research has found that genes that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease are highly active in microglia. The theory is that dysfunctional microglia may remove brain synapses in the process of clearing out protein clumps. That could explain why treatments that were successful at reducing amyloid in the brain were not successful in slowing cognitive decline.

In terms of how to approach microglia, two companies, Annexon Biosciences and Alector, are pursuing the protein C1q. Synapses marked with this protein are attacked by microglia, contributing memory loss. Blocking the protein may protect those synapses.

A startup called NeuroTherapia has a similar goal and aims to stop overactive microglia.

Epigenetics

Epigenetics is the study of how changes in the body are caused by modification of gene expression, or the way information in the genes is used, rather than a change in the genetic code itself. A startup called Rodin Therapeutics was founded on the theory that an epigenetic mechanism could be used to treat cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s. The idea is that a treatment could turn up gene expression for proteins key to maintaining old synapses and forming new ones.

Another company called Oryzon Genomics also plans to launch a trial with a similar tactic next year.

Combination therapies

Another approach to Alzheimer’s disease treatment could involve several different treatments at once. In May 2017, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation partnered to call for more research into combination therapies for Alzheimer’s treatment.

The joint effort will provide $2 million in 2017 for research projects that simultaneously target at least two processes that are believed to be part of Alzheimer’s disease. The studies must also use re-purposed drugs to shorten the timeline for new drugs to reach the market. All-new drugs, or novel drugs, typically take 12 years from start to finish to reach patients.

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