Caution: hope aheadDr. David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said “These results provide tantalizing evidence that a new class of drug to treat the disease may be on the horizon." The world is hoping. But hope can be cruel. The horizon has a way of staying very far away. This is a wonderfully promising beginning, but only a first step down a road littered with disappointing failures. The trial study making news today monitored reactions to different doses of the drug for unwanted adverse reactions. It will take years of further testing to reach the horizon…if we get there at all.
What’s aducanumab?The new drug, called aducanumab, removed the build-up of the protein amyloid in the brain, and slowed decline in memory and thinking skills. Sounds promising so far. Especially as we have only a limited arsenal of powerful prescription meds available to treat Alzheimer's devastating symptoms. All of them are served with a numerous side effects, from disruptive and annoying, like headaches, dizziness, and constipation, to disastrous, like kidney failure. Only five meds to treat Alzheimer's are FDA approved, four of which are ACE inhibitors—variants of essentially the same mechanism, and effective only in treating symptoms. And to underscore how difficult it's been to crack the Alzheimer's code, between 2003 and 2014, not a single new class of drug was approved by the FDA.
The new kid in town shinesAducanumab is an antibody programmed to target amyloid, the protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s at an early stage in the disease process. Several drugs have been designed to target this process, but none have yet succeeded at removing the protein and improving outcomes for patients in the final stages of clinical testing. Over the course of a year, the researchers gave monthly injections of aducanumab to 165 people, at doses of 1, 3, 6, or 10 mg per kilogram of body weight. The subjects had mild Alzheimer’s or early memory problems, plus markers on brain scans for high levels of the amyloid protein. Participants had regular brain scans, blood tests, and thinking/memory tests throughout the year. The results? Breakthrough. Aducanumab reduced the levels of amyloid in the brain on brain scans, with the highest 10 mg/kg dose having the greatest effect. The researchers also found that aducanumab slowed the rate of decline in thinking/memory skills—the higher the dose, the greater the improvement. Though there were predictable tolerance issues, aducanumab was considered safe enough for continued clinical development. An international research team is working to better understand the side effects and how to prevent them. Additional clinical testing, on larger groups of participants, is underway. Here's hoping.
The old kids in town don't shineFor people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers, life is terribly difficult. Current drugs, as I mentioned, do nothing to heal the disease. They can only slow the progression of symptoms…which get worse over time. Not a happy prognosis. One common prescription med, Memantine, works as an NMDA receptor antagonist, which helps prevent or slow this destructive progression. Side effects differ from one drug to the next, but can include:
- Out-of-body sensation
- Sensory changes
- Dry cough
- Increased blood-potassium level (hyperkalemia)
- Loss of taste
- Potentially dangerous swelling
And especially when there are better, safer, natural alternatives?While we hope aducanumab races toward the finish line, even though there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, there's a lot you can do to reduce the risk of developing it. A Finnish study confirmed that the personal choices you make each and every day can have a tremendous difference in your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found five essential behaviors that protect against the disease:
- Exercising regularly
- A diet of nutritious, whole foods
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Staying active mentally and socially
- Managing chronic ailments like depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure
Never lose hopeWith so many brilliant researchers worldwide working to make an Alzheimer's cure a reality…it will happen. Meanwhile, all it takes for excellent health is to take good care.
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