Inside the different efforts to treat Alzheimer’s disease

Even though there’s a lot of research being conducted at the moment, there’s no long-term cure for the disease yet.

Inside the different efforts to treat Alzheimer’s disease
Elderly people look at sheet music in a singing class, at a nursing home of Lendlease's Ardor Gardens, in Shanghai, China February 27, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song

Researchers and scientists have been looking to solve Alzheimer’s for… ever, basically. The issue is that scientists don’t know the exact cause of it, but they do have a few different ideas.

This disease and other types of dementia affect 1 in 14 people over 65 and 1 in 6 people over 80, according to the UK’s National Health Service. Doctors think Alzheimer’s could be caused by an irregular buildup of proteins in and around brain cells. One of these proteins is called amyloid, and it creates plaques around brain cells. The other protein is called tau, which forms tangles within brain cells. But, it’s not clear what causes these proteins to build up in the first place.

Recently, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly made headlines when its Alzheimer’s treatment, solanezumab, failed to treat the disease in its early stages for people who haven’t yet shown symptoms. The company ended the development of the drug, which was meant to stop or slow down buildup of the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s.

“These data suggest that we may need to be more aggressive with amyloid removal even at this very early stage of disease,” said Dr. Reisa Sperling, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the director of Eli Lilly’s solanezumab study.

In other Alzheimer’s treatment strategies, experimental therapies target the immune system. This is because scientists are starting to see that immune processes could be key in driving protein buildup that leads to this disease. Many of these treatments are aimed at microglia, the brain’s immune cells, which can injure brain tissue depending on when and how they’re activated.

Even though there’s a lot of potential and so much research being conducted at the moment, there’s no long-term cure for the disease yet. Many different things are associated with this disease, from insulin resistance to hormones to diet to mitochondria activity.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Researchers believe that future treatments will involve a combination of medications or devices aimed at several targets, along with risk reduction strategies similar to current treatments for many cancers and AIDS.”