While there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, many new milestones continue to be reached. A new Alzheimer’s risk gene was recently discovered, and 11 new genes have been potentially linked to late-onset form of the disease. Several promising therapies are under investigation in large clinical trials. A brain mapping initiative — Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) — has been launched to help provide much-needed scientific knowledge.
10 pharmaceutical companies have entered into a collaboration effort to share scientists, tissues, and blood samples, and data to decipher the biology behind Alzheimer’s and other diseases. These and other efforts seem to indicate we are on our way to just the kind of help we’ve been waiting for.
So why are new treatments taking so long? There is a host of factors. The human brain is a complex organ, one that we are only beginning to understand. Alzheimer's symptoms can mimic those of other diseases. Alzheimer's diagnosis is still an imperfect science-while experts can usually diagnose it correctly, the only way to confirm the existence of plaques in the brain outside of the research setting is through autopsy. There are still competing theories as to what causes Alzheimer's. Tracking the progress of the disease is difficult-we don't have the equivalent of the blood pressure cuff for Alzheimer's.
Perhaps most striking, only recently have advances in public health and medical science allowed enough people to live long enough to expose Alzheimer's as a serious health issue. Today, the "super-elderly"-people over 85-are among the fastest growing cohorts of Australians and New Zealanders, and they are at the highest risk of age-related dementia.
The good news is that our knowledge is growing. New non-invasive imaging technologies are revealing the workings of the brain. Alzheimer's is now in the national spotlight. We're hoping to see new approaches to treatment within the next five years.
For all of us who have seen Alzheimer's up close and personal, they can't arrive soon enough.
- 1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Population By Age And Sex, Australia, States And Territories. Australian Demographic Statistics 2016. Accessed 26/01/2017.
- 2. Hayman KJ, et al. Life and Living in Advanced Age. BMC Geriatr 2012; 12: 33. doi: 10.1186/1471-2318-12-33. Accessed 27/01/2017.