Why Alz Researchers are Shifting Focus from Treatment to Prevention

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerDecember 2, 2013

Since it’s discovery in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, there have been many breakthroughs in the research and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. Currently, drug treatments treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, while not attacking the root of the problem. Existing treatment plans are only able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, not eradicate the disease entirely.

From Fighting to Preventing

Recently, researchers committed to fighting Alzheimer’s Disease have begun shifting their focus from new treatment options to disease prevention. “More recently we’ve begun to think a lot more about prevention in addition to, or sometimes instead of, treatment,” said David Borchelt of the McKnight Brain Institute and the Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease. He also said that existing treatment-based drug trials have not successfully translated into effective medications.

In addition to unsuccessful drug trials, researchers are often confronted with ethical concerns in treatment studies. Scientists have to use animals (mainly mice) for their treatment studies. The brains of mice can not accurately replicate Alzheimer’s disease in a human. “The general problem with (Alzheimer’s patients) is they can’t remember, they can’t reason well, and they make poor decisions because they’re not thinking clearly,” Borchelt said. “Those things are really hard to assay in a mouse.”

Finding a New Approach

Because of these reasons, researchers are looking for a new approach to fighting Alzheimer’s, and it starts with never getting it in the first place. Fortunately, the brains of mice can reproduce pathology so researchers can screen the mice for prevention methods and then test that in humans. Furthermore, prevention trials involving humans do not have the ethical concerns that a treatment trial would have. Researchers could ask a group of people to voluntarily follow a certain diet or make certain life decisions and then simply record the result.

Researchers are hopeful that focusing on prevention will yield greater success in fighting the debilitating disease that affects over 5 million Americans.

What do you think about their new approach? 

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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