Today, I have a wonderful treat for you. While I am getting ready for my gallbladder surgery tomorrow morning I thought I would share a wonderful piece by Paul Watson. Paul Watson is the Content Marketing Specialist at EverSpark Interactive in Atlanta, Georgia. When he’s not working, Paul enjoys spending time in local coffee shops and defending his choice of Savannah Smiles over other Girl Scout cookies.
Ever since we first figured out what Alzheimer’s is, scientists, doctors and even loved ones of those diagnosed have been trying anything and everything to prevent the disease. There have been some major breakthroughs in recent decades, but those have mostly been related to diagnoses and causes. We even now understand how the disease affects our narrative and our concept of the Self. While these discoveries have been meaningful, they have done very little to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s.
All of that could be changing soon. A new treatment may be able to stop Alzheimer’s disease before it even begins. It all has to do with with the anti-amyloid antibody. Before we can understand how this can help, we need to know what causes Alzheimer’s in the first place.
The Biology of Alzheimer’s
In 1906, a German doctor named Alois Alzheimer had a patient named Auguste. This patient suffered from memory loss, hallucinations, delusions, cognitive impairment and other similar symptoms. (If you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s, this list probably sounds very familiar). He documented all of these issues while she was alive, but made his most astounding discoveries during his autopsy of Auguste.
What he discovered would change the course of medical history. Within her cerebral cortex, he noticed abnormalities we now identify as neurofibrillary tangles and beta-amyloid protein plaque. In common terms, her brain cells had begun to shrivel and degrade due to an issue with a protein called tau. In addition, the plaque buildup blocks communication between brain cells. This second issue is what the new treatment seeks to remedy.
The A4 Study
For the past few years, Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s study, or the A4 study for short, has been conducting a clinical trial to test different drugs that could prevent the buildup of amyloid proteins in older adults. Essentially, the researchers want to discover whether the onset of Alzheimer’s could be delayed — or even prevented altogether — by preventing these proteins from building up.
In the study, they chose adults between 65 and 85 years old who did not show immediate signs of memory loss, but were at risk due to plaque on the brain. The patients were given an MRI scan, as well as other tests, to determine their amyloid protein levels. Then, they were split into groups and given either an antibody to fight the plaque or a placebo. Their cognitive abilities are tested every six months. While there are no concrete results yet — the study is only two years old — researchers are hopeful.
More to the Study
Researchers are also looking at the tau protein issues in Alzheimer’s patients.This protein is responsible for giving structure to brain cells. When they fail, they tangle and cause their cell to deform. The more tangles that are present, the more severe the memory loss. Researchers know that the more amyloid protein that is present, the more tangles they will find. So, they are hoping that, by preventing plaque buildup, they can slow or prevent the tangling of tau protein, further reducing the risk of memory loss. About half the patients are undergoing tau protein treatment.
Dr. Amanda Smith, medical director at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa (an A4 test site), said, It has really revolutionized the field. We have the very real potential to have the last generation of people with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a very exciting time in this area of research.”
You can find out more about the A4 study and keep up with new breakthroughs here.