Latest Scientific Developments in Dementia Research

Latest Scientific Developments in Dementia Research

Dementia – a catchall term for a cognitive decline due to chronic and progressive brain disease – is an issue facing 47.5 million people worldwide, with 7.7 million being diagnosed every year. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predict that the number of senior Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia – will more than double in the next 40 years, bringing the total of Americans with this disease to 14 million. This translates to one in six women and one in 10 men who live past the age of 55 will develop some sort of dementia.

“Dementia is one of the biggest health concerns facing older Americans today,” says Heather Battey, Executive Director at amavida, a senior living and dementia care community in Fort Myers, Florida. “It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, while one in three seniors over the age of 65 die having developed some form of dementia. Because this issue is so prevalent, there has been a concerted focus by the scientific and medical community to study the disease, determine why it develops and eventually find a cure for these types of diseases.”

Currently, there are five drugs on the market that are approved to help with the cognitive symptoms of dementia. However, because it has not yet been determined how the disease develops, there are no drugs on the market that can treat the underlying causes of dementia, nor slow the progression of the disease. Researchers believe that successful treatment will eventually be developed and will include a combination of drugs that aim at multiple targets.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association®, public knowledge has been raised over the years, leading to an increased effort to fund research and development towards eliminating dementia. In September of 2018, the largest-ever funding increase for dementia research was signed into law by the U.S. Congress, which is committed to helping find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by the year 2025.

“Because of these funding increases, we are seeing almost daily advancements being made in the field of dementia research,” says Heather.

Here are some of the most recent studies and developments that are happening in dementia research today.

The ability to forecast what type of dementia someone will develop over time. In a study from UT Southwestern Medical Center, scientists announced the identification of the “molecular start” for Alzheimer’s disease. The study shows that tau proteins (which play a role in the development of dementia) have different shapes based on different types of dementia. This means that eventually it should be possible to forecast what type of dementia will develop in an individual. Eventually, scientists hope this breakthrough will result in the ability to one day treat and halt neurodegeneration in the very early stages of dementia.

A discovery that a popular stroke drug may also prevent dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have discovered that a popular stroke drug, 3K3A-APC, has been proven to protect the brains of mice who have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. The drug helps prevent memory loss by reducing toxic peptide buildup.

Identification of a new culprit of cognitive decline – and a potential treatment target. A study from the University of California reports that people reporting the worst memory problems also have been shown to have the most leakage from their brain’s blood vessels. The new research shows that these leaky capillaries can predict the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, since they are shown to signal cognitive impairment before classic hallmarks like tau and amyloid develop in the brain.

The answer to a decades-old question about protein in brain plaques. Over the years, a protein found in brains affected by Alzheimer’s has plagued researchers. Amyloid plaques, a classic symptom of Alzheimer’s, has long been known to be produced from this precursor protein (aggregates mainly consisting of amyloid-beta), but the function has remained unknown. However, a team of scientists has recently published a report identifying the function of this protein. According to researchers, these proteins modulate neuronal signal transmission by binding to a specific receptor. By modulating this receptor, medical professionals could potentially help treat dementia like Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

A better understanding of an early sign of dementia. The Washington University School of Medicine has discovered why sleeping poorly is an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Seniors have less slow-wave sleep than their younger counterparts, which causes them to have heightened levels of the toxic brain protein tau. Elevated tau levels have long been known to be a sign of dementia and has been linked to cognitive decline and brain damage.

A discovery of new changes the brain undergoes during early dementia.
Dementia causes significant changes and degeneration of our brains, and researches have recently identified new changes that occur during the very early stages of the disease. Further research will explore whether these changes are also visible in blood samples and cerebrospinal fluid, and whether or not these changes could be used as predictive biomarkers for dementia like Alzheimer’s. It’s hypothesized that these early-state changes may open up new venues for treatment targets.

Development of a new test for identifying a dementia protein marker.

The NIH and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have developed an ultrasensitive test that detects a corrupted protein that’s been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and conditions related to repetitive brain trauma (such as what occurs in military Veterans and athletes). This test could eventually lead to early diagnosis and open up avenues for more research.  

A new path towards a vaccine or treatment for late-onset Alzheimer's.
Researchers at UT Southwestern have succeeded in neutralizing what is believed to be a primary factor in later-onset dementias. This discovery opens the door to drug development that could be given to individuals before the age of 40 and taken as a preventative to potentially prevent dementia in 50 to 80 percent of at-risk individuals.

“This is a thrilling time for the field, and it’s very exciting to think that we may be on the cusp of finding a cure for these diseases,” says Heather. “Until that time, we at amavida will continue to provide the very best care for our residents living with memory issues like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”

For more information about the memory care options available at amavida, please call 877.969.0712.

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