Why is it so hard to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease?


According to a recent piece in the International Business Times, the cure for Alzheimer’s disease is a lot further away than articles and scientific papers would have you believe. Research into this devastating disease is ongoing, but there have been more failures than successes in the drug-trial process. The most recent approval of a molecule against Alzheimer’s (memantine) was over a decade ago. This news is discouraging to patients and their families who long for progress.

Average life expectancy has increase by an average of 30 years per person in the past century. As the baby boomers continue to age, the percentage of seniors in the population also grows. This poses substantial problems, as Alzheimer’s primarily targets older adults. The likelihood of getting dementia increases drastically with age, and it is estimated that as of 2015, around 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This number is expected to increase to 13.2 million in 2050.

Dementia isn’t cheap, either. The cost has increased more than 30% between 2005 and 2009, and it was estimated to have cost the US over $604 billion in 2010.

The reason why treatments are so difficult to develop?

Alzheimer’s is a complex and varying disease that is not well understood. Dr. James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said

“With hundred billion synapses protected by the skull, the brain is a very complex organ, the most complex in the body. We still do not have great ways to measure what is going on in there, unlike other disease such as diabetes, where you can get a good idea of what you are dealing with thanks to simple blood tests…If you cannot study what is going on, it is complicated to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s”.

The underlying process of Alzheimer’s is one of great debate, and may actually be a number of different, but related conditions. This makes it nearly impossible for a drug trial to succeed.

“There is not a single, uniform way to talk about this disease, no one way to classify it and perhaps no drug that can fix it all, which makes it hard to come up with quick fix-solutions. We are making progress, but we are not yet where we would like to be,”

said Dr. Russell Swerdlow, director of the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center. The new trend in the field seems to be targeting patients with mild cognitive impairment or less severe forms of the disease. Focusing on prevention, rather than the cure of full-blown Alzheimer’s might prove more successful in the coming years, but there is still a long way to go.

View the IBT article here


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