4 Potential Advances In Alzheimer’s Treatment

New research indicates more than 28 million baby boomers are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and their care will account for nearly a quarter of all Medicare spending. With this massive social expense quickly approaching, new treatments are needed. Luckily, there are several on the horizon.

Early, Low-Cost Detection Through Saliva Testing

Image by Bev Sykes via Flickr
Image by Bev Sykes via Flickr

The earlier Alzheimer’s can be detected, the easier it is to treat or even delay its symptoms, and new research indicates early detection through saliva may soon be a possibility. Shradda Sapkota, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada, has identified certain traits in the saliva of Alzheimer’s patients, and she has aligned the presence of those elements with specific cognitive issues.

Theoretically, this research may be used to develop a saliva test that could help doctors predict which of their patients are at the greatest risk for Alzheimer’s. Once developed, this test could be a low-cost way to screen patients in order to see who needs more aggressive, thorough or expensive screenings.

Effective, Early Testing Through Cerebrospinal Fluid

Although not as low-cost as the saliva tests potentially being developed, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) testing also may be a critical tool in the early detection of Alzheimer’s. CSF is the fluid surrounding and protecting the brain and spinal cord. When people suffer from brain injuries or impairments, the body releases a range of proteins into its CSF.

According to Mental Floss, Alzheimer’s patients have significantly higher amounts of neurogranin in their CSF. Once fully developed, this screening test could alert patients and their doctors of the need to take medications such as Aricept that slow the onset of symptoms.

PET Scans of Tau Tangles to Assess Disease Advancement

Image by Allan Ajifo via Flickr
Image by Allan Ajifo via Flickr

Early detection can be key to effective treatment, but being able to accurately hone in on how advanced a patient’s Alzheimer’s is can also be extremely important. A key indicator of Alzheimer’s is tau tangles in the patient’s brain, and as the disease advances, these tangles become denser and more prominent, explains the National Institute on Aging.

Scientists are now developing new ways to use PET scan technology to assess disease advancement. These scans can be used to look at the current number of tangles in a person’s brain, and they can also be used to compare the changes in tangles over a certain time period.

Advances in PET scan technology don’t just help with this aspect of Alzheimer’s. The technology can also be used to look at inflammation and monitor levels of microglial cells, immune system cells which appear in the brain when other cells have been destroyed.

Inhibitor Molecules as a Potential Cure for Alzheimer’s

Image by UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences via Flickr
Image by UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences via Flickr

While early detection and advancement assessment are critical, they are not as exciting as a cure, and recent breakthroughs in inhibitor molecules may have the potential to create a much needed cure to this devastating disease.

Researchers work with a range of inhibitor molecules that bind to enzymes and proteins in a way that keeps them stable. In particular, these inhibitor molecules have the potential to stop the formation of amyloid proteins, a protein that builds up in Alzheimer’s patients.

One inhibitor molecule that is garnering a great deal of excitement in the Alzheimer’s world is the Brichos molecule. Nicknamed the chaperone molecule, the Brichos molecule helps proteins in the brain form correctly, and most importantly, it can effectively stick to amyloid fibrils.

By sticking to these fibrils, Brichos stops them from creating the toxic clusters that cause brain degeneration of Alzheimer’s patients. Not only does developing the use of these chaperone molecules help Alzheimer’s patients, it also offers hope for advancements in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

While much work still needs to be done in the field of Alzheimer’s research, these four advancements offer great promise. Any of them could help offset the potential cost of caring for the looming number of Alzheimer’s patients.

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