ST. LOUIS, Mo. – November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and it seems every day we are learning more about this debilitating disease. Right now, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and researchers are working hard to find out why some people get it, some people don’t and how to stop it. Three breakthroughs could end up saving millions of lives.
Every 60 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease.
“There is a huge need for new Alzheimer’s disease treatments,” said Jason Ulrich, PhD, research professor at Washington University.
One major breakthrough in the lab, a blood test that predicts the onset of Alzheimer’s 20 years before symptoms occur. It works by detecting the buildup of microscopic clumps of amyloid plaques in the brain.
“These clumps kind of break up the communication between our neurons that are needed for us to think and remember and do things that we normally do,” said Dr. Randall Bateman, professor of neurology with Washington University School of Medicine.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine report that when the amyloid levels are combined with age and a gene variant, brain changes can be identified with 94% accuracy. But that’s not all. Now they are working to create a blood test to determine the presence of tangles that occur after Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.
“So, when people do have subtle memory problems, we can tell whether, is it really due to Alzheimer’s disease, or is it likely due to some other cause?” Bateman said.
These simple blood tests could be available during a regular doctors visit within two years, bypassing the need for expensive tests and procedures.
“We can send as many people as we want to get a blood test and they can get it that day,” said Suzanne Schindler, MD, PhD, neurologist at Washington University.
Another breakthrough uses antibodies to alert the immune system to the presence of plaques and directs immune cells to remove them.
“When we administer it to mouse models that develop this disease, it removes these plaques from the brain and from the blood vessels,” Ulrich said.
Three ways researchers are working to save our memories before it’s too late.
In June, the FDA approved the first new drug for Alzheimer’s disease in 18 years. Aduhelm targets the amyloid plaques in the brain, while also possibly slowing cognitive decline. Late last month the drug maker reported aduhelm brought in $300,000 in revenue from July to September, which fell short of Wall Street’s expectations.