The Slow Pace Of Alzheimer’s Research Funding
The urgent need for funding of Alzheimer’s research and the need of providing care for those afflicted with the disease is constantly in the news.
In recognition of this urgent need, in 2011 the National Alzheimer's Project Act was put forward in part by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) with then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), and it determined that annual research funding of $2 billion was needed to achieve the goal of preventing and treating Alzheimer's by 2025. So what has been accomplished by the act so far?
Will President Trump Fund Alzheimer’s Research?
Around February of 2018 a group of 14 senators led by Senator Collins, founder and co-chair of the Senate Alzheimer's Task Force, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked President Trump to boost funding allocated for Alzheimer's research in the fiscal year 2019 budget request he was to submit.
The group of senators wrote in a letter, “Alzheimer's is one of our nation's leading causes of death, and it is the only one of our nation's deadliest diseases without an effective means of prevention, treatment or cure,” The senators further stated in the letter that “If nothing is done to change the trajectory of Alzheimer's, the number of Americans afflicted with the disease is expected to more than triple by 2050,”
That cost is expected to be up to $1.1 trillion. However the proposed Senate funding bill for FY18 calling for $1.8 billion in funding for Alzheimer's research, an increase of $414 million, has not passed. Instead, legislators have been passing short-term funding measures.
Has then, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act Stalled? As of this report it seems it has.
Is a Cure for Alzheimer's Disease Just Around the Corner?
Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory may have found a way to reverse memory loss in mice, and possibly a breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
The team focused on one enzyme that causes memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.
Even though there’s a long way to go, it’s an exciting development.
“This has the potential to really make a difference,” says Jay Penney, PhD, one of the lead authors of a new study.
“What we’ve done is found a new way to basically prevent this negative effect of this enzyme,” he says.
The Key to Stopping Memory Loss.
They accomplished that by turning off the enzyme. And what happened in the mice? It didn’t just stop the memory loss, it actually reversed it!
“We seem to have been able to pinpoint its role in memory processes quite specifically,” said Penney.
If it does the same thing for people with Alzheimer’s, then the plan would be to develop a drug to treat the disease.
“It’s definitely an exciting avenue that has now been opened by this,” Penney says.
It’s been known for some time that this enzyme triggers memory loss, but this is the first time scientists have been able to switch it off without causing other kinds of problems.
Even though testing on people is many years away, the stakes are very high. If treatments are not found, the disease and the damage it does will dramatically increase as the population ages.
Source: CBS Boston
According to a new study published Thursday, April 20th in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, people who drank at least one artificially-sweetened beverage a day had almost three times the risk of developing stroke or dementia and Alzheimer’s disease .
Does this mean that drinking diet soda can cause dementia or stroke or even increase the risks? Not necessarily.
What the Results of the Study Showed:
The study was published in the Journal Stroke. The journal is affiliated with the American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association.
The researchers caution that the study only shows an association -- it does not prove that diet drinks actually cause stroke or dementia. However more research is warranted according to the studys authors.
“Although we did not find an association between stroke or dementia and the consumption of sugary drinks, this certainly does not mean they are a healthy option,” Matthew Pase, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a statement. “We recommend that people drink water on a regular basis instead of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.”
How the Study was Conducted:
The researchers analyzed data on nearly 2,888 people over the age of 45 for the stroke study and almost 1,500 people over age 60 for the dementia study.
The participants recorded their eating and drinking habits in questionnaires. The researchers reviewed this information at three different points in time over a period of seven years. The participants were then followed up on for the next 10 years to see who developed stroke or dementia and then compared dietary habits to the risk of developing these health problems.
At the end of the 10 year follow-up , the researchers found 97 cases of stroke, 82 of which were ischemic (caused by blockage of blood vessels), and 81 cases of dementia, 63 of which were diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease.
The studies control factors, other possible risk factors taken into account, included age, sex, caloric intake, education, diabetes, and the presence of genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
Conclusions of the Diet Soda Study:
The results showed that people who consumed at least one artificially-sweetened drink a day were three times as likely to develop ischemic stroke and 2.9 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease dementia.
In addition to being an observational study which cannot prove cause and effect, the authors noted the studys other limitations, including that fact that the overwhelming majority of participants were white. People did not drink sugary drinks as often as diet ones, which the authors said could be one reason they did not see the same link with regular soda.
The number of people in the study was also limited, under 2900 over a ten year period.
“Even if someone is three times as likely to develop stroke or dementia, it is by no means a certain fate,” Dr. Pase said. “In our study, three percent of the people had a new stroke and five percent developed dementia, so we’re still talking about a small number of people developing either stroke or dementia.”
In an accompanying commentary, Ralph Sacco, M.D., a former president of the American Heart Association and the chairman of the department of neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at University of Miami in Florida, says that current research is “inconclusive” in determining whether or not drinking artificially sweetened beverages frequently can lead stroke, dementia, and other heart-related conditions.
However, the current study, as well as other recent research showing associations between diet soft drinks and negative effects on blood vessels throughout the body, suggest that consumers may want to use caution before turning to these drinks as an alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Both sugar and artificially sweetened soft drinks may be hard on the brain,” Dr. Sacco writes.
Other professionals are in agreement. “We know that limiting added sugars is an important strategy to support good nutrition and healthy body weights, and until we know more, people should use artificially sweetened drinks cautiously,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., past chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee and professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont. “They may have a role for people with diabetes and in weight loss, but we encourage people to drink water, low-fat milk or other beverages without added sweeteners.”
Responding to the published study, Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, issued a statement from the group that said low-calorie sweeteners found in beverages have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities. Those authorities includes "The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others".
Link to study:
Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia
A Prospective Cohort Study
Despite Disappointment - Alzheimer’s Drug Development and Testing Continues
If you or a family member has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease, then you probably pay close attention to news about the latest drug research and other efforts to combat or even reverse the dreadful affliction.
There have been many experimental drugs tested and some have even reached the market. Drugs such as Aricept and Namenda have been shown to temporarily deal with symptoms of the disease but done nothing to stop its advancement. Now the latest results of trials of the drug known as LMTX have shown it is no more effective.
A New York Times article titled “Alzheimer’s Drug LMTX Falters in Final Stage of Trials” highlighted the unwelcomed trial results. “Over all, the patients who received LMTX, which was developed by TauRx Therapeutics, did not have a slower rate of decline in mental ability or daily functioning than those in the control group” according to the Times.
This new type of drug for Alzheimer’s disease failed to slow the rate of decline in mental ability and daily functioning in its first large clinical trial, though prior to the latest study there was hopefulness. It seemed a small portion of the study participants saw favorable results. “There were highly significant, clinically meaningful, large effects in patients taking the drug as monotherapy, and no effect in patients taking it as an add-on,” Claude Wischik, a founder and the chief executive of TauRx, said in an interview. He spoke from Toronto, where the results were being presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. Monotherapy has the meaning that only the test drug was being administered, with no other related drug(s).
Future of the drug LMTX still to be determined in spite of results.
Although some people associated with the TauRx study said there were some hopeful results, other experts not involved in the study were skeptical about drawing conclusions from a small subset of patients, especially since there was no obvious explanation why LMTX would be expected to work only in patients not getting other drugs. Regulators might also be skeptical and require the company to conduct another large study, this time only with participants not using other drugs.
“I have to say that the results that we saw here were, to me, more disappointing than not,” Dr. David Knopman, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, said in moderating a news conference at the meeting in Toronto.
Regardless of these mostly disappointing results, Dr. Wischik said the company planned to apply for approval of LMTX to be used by itself.
The Phase 3 trial presented on Wednesday had 891 patients from 16 countries with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They were randomly assigned to be treated with a lower dose of LMTX, a higher dose of LMTX or a placebo. (The placebo contained a tiny amount of LMTX to turn the patients’ urine bluish green. Otherwise people would know if they were getting the drug or the placebo based on the color of their urine.)
The decision of the company to continue with the drug LMTX certainly shows there is an obvious great desire for work to continue on Alzheimer’s research, with the hope of one day discovering genuinely effective drug treatment for what today seems an unstoppable disease.
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New Alzheimers Test Checks for the Ability to Identify Odors
Are we one step closer to the early detection of memory decline and dementia? Two new important studies have been released this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2016 that may provide the answer.
The two new studies ”evaluated changes in odor identification as an early predictor of cognitive decline, or of the transition to dementia”, and could lead to new relatively cheap screening tests revealing the possibility of a patient developing Alzheimer’s disease. Testing of patients may include the ability to identify familiar odors such as smoke, coffee, raspberry and turpentine.
Currently, any tests that are able to spot people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's are costly and difficult. They include PET scans of the brain, and spinal taps that measure the levels of certain proteins in spinal fluid.
In both new studies, people who were in their 60s and older took a standard odor detection test. And in both cases, those who did poorly on the test were more likely to already have, or go on to develop, problems with memory and thinking.
"The whole idea is to create tests that a general clinician can use in an office setting," says Dr. William Kreisl, a neurologist at Columbia University, where both studies were done. The research was presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Toronto.
Questions Remain - Are the Results of the New Alzheimer’s Studies Valid?
Finding simple tests for brain disorders has always been elusive and difficult. Existing biomarkers, for Alzheimer's disease for instance, have serious limitations.
And the question remains: Do the tests identify a patient’s inability to sense an odor, or rather remember what the odor is? For example, did one patient forget what turpentine smelled like or instead did they never know what turpentine smelled like? This is important as the area of the brain responsible may differ.
Also the size of the studies leading to the announcement brings into question the validity of the findings. In one, researchers studied 84 people in their 60s and 70s, including 58 with the sort of memory problems that suggest early Alzheimer's. And another study by another team from Columbia followed, for more than four years, 397 people whose average age was 80 at the start. Some may question such optimism concerning results from under 500 patients over the course of many years with some participants already of advanced age. The fact is that millions currently suffer form Alzheimer's disease and related dementia.
Nevertheless, the idea of an odor detection test arose, in part, from something doctors have observed for many years in patients with Alzheimer's disease.
"Patients (with Alzheimers) will tell us that food does not taste as good," says Dr. Kreisl. The reason is often that these patients have lost the ability to smell what they eat. “That's not surprising, given that odor signals from the nose have to be processed in areas of the brain that are among the first to be affected by Alzheimer's disease.”
The point remains however, that odor tests aren't perfect. For one thing, other degenerative brain diseases, including Parkinson's, can also affect odor detection. Also, the ability to smell can be diminished by smoking, certain head injuries and even normal aging.
Continued Funding for Alzheimer’s Research Encouraged
While the results of these newly released studies are encouraging and raise hope, the need for continuing and increased funding for new Alzheimers research is imperative. To this day there is still no drug that can slow or halt the disease.
Currently more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimers disease. Also, nearly 1 in 3 seniors will die from Alzheimers or another form of dementia. And in 2015 more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion house of unpaid care.
For more startling facts about the cost of Alzheimers in America, visit the Alzheimers Association web page - 2016 ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE FACTS AND FIGURES
About the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC)
The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) is the world’s largest gathering of researchers from around the world focused on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. As a part of the Alzheimer’s Association’s research program, AAIC serves as a catalyst for generating new knowledge about dementia and fostering a vital, collegial research community.