Breakthroughs in Treating Alzheimer’s Disease on the Horizon
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Every 68 seconds, an American develops Alzheimer's disease.* In 2050, an American will develop the disease every 33 seconds. Today, an estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Two things happening in the field. From a pathologist’s point of view: We have defined the endpoint biologically— by the autopsy. Now, we’re looking at the “whole movie” over time of the process. We now are able to work backwards and ask: What are the surrogate markers now when people are living?”
—Jack Lee, MD, PhD
As the population ages, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias will also continue to increase. By 2025, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million, unless new research to slow the disease’s progression becomes available.
November is designated as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month to raise awareness of the disease, support, and research. Fortunately, promising new treatments are on the horizon, according to Jack Lee, MD, PhD, a neuropathologist and Residency Program Director in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at NorthShore University Health System, Evanston, Ill.
“Two things happening in the field,” he says. “From a pathologist’s point of view: We have defined the endpoint biologically— by the autopsy. Now, we’re looking at the “whole movie” over time of the process. We are now able to work backwards and ask: What are the surrogate markers now when people are living?”
Brain scans now allow a clinicians and researchers to examine amyloid plaques that build up excessively in the brain of someone who possibly has Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Lee believes that if individuals with excessive amounts of amyloid plaques could be identified earlier, they could be better candidates to receive treatment to attempt to delay onset of the symptoms.
Clinicians and scientists are also starting to look at individuals who have an amnestic form of mild cognitive impairment, which may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. “There are a few trials coming out now looking at this form of mild cognitive impairment,” he says. Research has shown that other treatments, besides statins and anti-inflammatory agents, may also have protective effects in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s for several years.
“We know that certain drug treatments for uses other than treating Alzheimer’s-- like the statins for high cholesterol —if you are on it long enough even before age 55—can be protective,” Dr. Lee says. “So there is a rationale to take drugs; even the ones that have failed clinical trials, if they are started earlier. Whether or not the drug companies have the ability and want to start another trial is another thing.”