This Wednesday (21) marks both World Alzheimer’s Day and National Alzheimer’s Awareness Day. Regardless of the name it receives, the date seeks to broaden the debate on this disease that permanently affects the memory, cognition and behavior of patients. Currently, science is looking for ways to cure and prevent this condition, which is still irreversible.
If science still hasn’t found a cure for Alzheimer’s, that doesn’t mean that thousands of scientists aren’t working on ways to control the progression of this type of dementia or even reverse advanced stages of the condition. In recent years, research on the topic has advanced significantly, and today, part of the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease has been revealed.
It is worth remembering that about 1.2 million people live with some form of dementia in Brazil, the most common being Alzheimer’s. Every year, 100,000 new cases of cognitive decline are registered among Brazilians. For the coming years, the trend is for new diagnoses to continue to increase, as indicated in the latest report by the Alzheimer’s Disease International. In this scenario, new advances in medicine are sorely needed.
Alzheimer’s disease identified through blood
“With record public and private investment in research, it’s an exciting time for Alzheimer’s and dementia research,” said Heather Snyder, vice president of the Alzheimer’s Association, in a statement. In fact, in a recent movement, billionaires are investing in promising studies against the disease.
In August, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and other entrepreneurs announced an $11 million donation to accelerate the development of diagnostic tests that identify early cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
Based on blood tests that diagnose cancer, the specific objective of the funding is to create forms of liquid biopsy for Alzheimer’s. These offer a non-invasive way of tracking patients and still provide early diagnosis. In the oncology area, they already allow the identification of some types of cancer up to 4 years before the first symptoms.
Studies seek new forms of diagnosis
In addition to liquid biopsies and blood biomarkers of dementia, other studies focus on understanding what early changes Alzheimer’s causes in the body and, thereby, speeding up diagnosis.
Recently, Portuguese scientists announced that they had discovered the first or at least one of the first regions of the brain affected by the disease. Through imaging tests, the team observed that the condition starts in a region known as the posterior cingulate.
In parallel, North American researchers train an Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify the frame. The strategy is to analyze the patterns of glucose use in the brains of patients who could potentially have dementia.
Promising treatments for curing Alzheimer’s
Despite advances in recent years, science still does not know exactly why the disease occurs. It is possible that its development is related to viral infections, for example. An apparent consensus is that two proteins — beta-amyloid and tau — play a key role in the evolution of dementia.
It is known that, in Alzheimer’s patients, they accumulate disproportionately in the brain, affecting behavior and the regular activities of the nervous system. For example, when beta-amyloids clump together, these proteins appear to have a toxic effect on neurons. This disrupts cell-to-cell communication. At some point, they form large clusters, called amyloid plaques.
What drugs can help against the progression of the disease?
Based on the dysfunctional behavior of the beta-amyloid protein observed in the brains of patients, different laboratories and pharmaceutical companies have developed drugs that target them. Currently, these studies are still ongoing or undergoing review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Among the most promising formulas, the platform healthline highlights three that target the beta-amyloid protein:
- The monoclonal antibody lecanemab, from Biogen and Eisai;
- Eli Lilly’s drug donanemab;
- Roche’s gantenerumab drug.
Known ways to prevent Alzheimer’s
The good news is that science has also advanced in the study of strategies that avoid the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, such as the importance of an active life. This is because, according to American research, physical exercise can alter the activity of immune cells in the brain, which reduces inflammation and increases the individual’s protection against this type of dementia.
Another point worth mentioning is the importance of good nights sleep, according to another US study. The authors point out that during sleep, immune cells attack and eliminate harmful proteins that threaten to accumulate in the brain, such as beta-amyloid. When the rest period is affected, so is the natural control of these proteins, which facilitates disproportionate multiplication.
In addition, other conditions can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, decompensated diabetes, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. For the next few years, science should be closer to reducing the risk of new cases and, most likely, will increase the range of treatments available beyond prevention.