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What’s New in Alzheimer’s Research?

“I can’t say when we will have a cure, but we now know through our findings how to ask the question of what is going wrong at the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s. – John O’Keefe

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease of the brain that affects more than 50 million people worldwide, and 5.8 million in America alone. Dementia is its most common form. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. While there’s currently no treatment or cure that can stop Alzheimer’s or slow progression of the disease, there are medications and various treatments to help manage symptoms. Still, loved ones and family members of those suffering with Alzheimer’s can have hope, as research into a possible cure and even more effective medications to combat symptoms continues at a brisk pace.

Genotypes May Be Key to Determine if Alzheimer’s Drugs Work

Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that a gene present in 75 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, but not in animals, is the reason why drugs found successful in animal testing failed to work in humans with the gene. The gene, CHRFAM7A, is a “fusion between a gene that codes for an Alpha 7 receptor for acetylcholine…and a kinase.” The gene is implicated in numerous psychiatric disorders. Researchers said that three of four Alzheimer’s drugs available today work by stimulating receptors responding to acetylcholine, while specific Alpha 7 drugs failed during clinical phase after being in development for more than a decade. 

As a result of their findings, researchers their findings confirm that Alpha 7 “is a very important target for treating Alzheimer’s,” but a human model must be used to test new drugs. They also said that a more personalized treatment approach for individual patients may be necessary, and should be based on the patients’ CHRFAM7A genotype, noting that one drug may work in 25 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, while another will work in 75 percent.

Eye Test to Find Alzheimer’s Disease Early?

Since previous studies examining the eyes of deceased Alzheimer’s patients found thinning of the retina and optic nerve degradation, researchers at the Washington University School of  Medicine explored whether a simple eye test may be able to detect the disease in older adults with no clinical symptoms. Using optical coherence tomography angiography, a noninvasive technique, researchers found that about half of the study’s participants had elevated levels of amyloid or tau, Alzheimer’s proteins, which indicated they’d likely develop the disease at some point. In addition, they all had retinal thinning. Since Alzheimer’s pathology starts developing long before symptoms appear, being able to use this simple eye test to identify beginning stages of  the pathology may encourage earlier treatments to slow further damage.

Promising APEX Blood Test for Earlier Alzheimer’s Detection

There’s excitement among Alzheimer’s researchers at Duke University studying use of amplified plasmonic exosome, officially called APEX, designed with the aim of earlier detection of the degenerative brain disease. It’s the first blood test for detecting Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, APEX is a blood-based method that works by ferreting out a molecular marker indicated in the disease’s early stages, aggregated amyloid beta. 

Researchers say that this blood test is quicker, cheaper, and more accurate than other methods for testing and diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, which aren’t able to detect the disease until late stages, when much damage has been done. The results of their study were published in Nature Communications. As for next steps, the research team is working with industrial partners to commercialize the technology, which is anticipated to hit the market in 5 years.

Alzheimer’s Gene May Effect Cognition in Childhood & Adolescence

Research from a team at the University of California, Riverside, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, has found some intriguing evidence that children and adolescents carrying the APOE4 gene allele score lower on IQ tests than peers without the allele. And, girls showed more cognition difference than boys. APOE4 is present, say researchers, in about 15 percent of the population. Furthermore, carriers of APOE4 are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s that is late-onset, typically in those aged 65 and older. 

Researchers say that their result suggest that cognitive differences associated with APOE4 may begin early and become magnified in adult years, adding that earlier intervention efforts in childhood to boost cognitive reserves may prove beneficial. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Carrying Extra Weight in Your 60s May Be Linked to Later Brain Thinning

In a study published in Neurology, the medical journal, American Academy of Neurology, researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found an association between bigger waists and higher body mass index (BMI) and thinning of the gray matter in the brain’s cortex. Measurements of the participants’ waists and BMI were taken prior to the start of the study. Some two-thirds of study group were Latino, and the average age was 64. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was done about six years later to measure cortex brain area thickness, and overall volume of the brain, plus some additional factors. 

Although careful to note that their results do not prove extra weight results in a thinner cortex, researchers said there is an association. Furthermore, although the overall thinning rate of the cortex in normal aging adults occurs (between 0.01 and 0.10 millimeters per decade), “being overweight or obese may accelerate aging in the brain by at least a decade.” Importantly, researchers pointed to the possibility that losing weight may help individuals “stave off” their brain aging, and perhaps some of the problems with thought and memory that co-occur with brain aging. Support for the study came from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, as well as the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute.

Apathy Often Present in Those with Dementia

Research from the University of Exeter shows that apathy, the most common symptom of dementia, is present in about half of those who have dementia. Researchers noted that apathy, which is distinct from depression, is little studied and often ignored in patient care. Apathy, characterized by loss of emotions and interest, can have devastating consequences for the patient and family members. Thus, a better understanding and prioritized research of apathy can lead to interventions that may provide significant benefit to those with dementia.  

What’s New in Alzheimer’s Research?


Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, www.suzannekane.net. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at [email protected].


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APA Reference
Kane, S. (2019). What’s New in Alzheimer’s Research?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/whats-new-in-alzheimers-research/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Aug 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 6 Aug 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.