A Cure for Alzheimer’s? New Research Points to Positive News

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease, and we all know someone who has been affected by it, either as a patient or caregiver.   Every 67 seconds someone in the US develops the disease, and an estimated 5.3 million Americans of all age groups currently have Alzheimer’s in 2015,  according to the Alzheimer’s Association. And these other startling facts on the disease the Association provides may surprise you:

  • Of the 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, an estimated 96% are age 65 and older, with the remaining 4% under age 65 (younger-onset Alzheimer’s).
  • Almost 2/3 of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Older African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than older whites to have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
  • Deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease increased 71% between 2010-13, while those caused by heart disease, the #1 cause of death, decreased 14%.
  • As of 2015, Alzheimer’s is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in the US that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.

The number of us in the US with Alzheimer’s disease will grow steadily with the size and proportion of the U.S. population age 65+. By 2025, the number of people 65+ with Alzheimer’s is estimated to reach 7.1 million — a 40% increase from 2015.  By 2050, the number of people 65+ with Alzheimer’s may nearly triple, to a projected 13.8 million, without the development of breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.

But, the true impact of Alzheimer’s can’t be fully understood without considering the families and caregivers that care for these patients, often over many, many years.  The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that in 2014, caregiver’s of Alzheimer’s patients provided 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care.  And this care takes a toll, with 60% of caregivers rating their emotional stress as high or very high, and 40% suffering from depression.  Due to this, Alzheimer’s caregivers had $9.7 billion in additional health care costs in 2014.

While these statistics are devastating for the families, friends and loved ones currently struggling with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis; ongoing study and research points to positive news on the horizon.  A study published this past spring in Science Translational Medicine from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), of Australia’s University of Queensland, has shown that non-invasive ultrasound technology was used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and restore memory in mice. An innovative and drug-free method, the treatment breaks up the amyloid plaques that have been called “neurotoxic” and result in memory loss and cognitive decline.

Researchers explained that the treatment developed by QBI temporarily opens the blood-brain barrier – a layer that protects our brains from bacteria and other threats as well as blocks drugs from entering.  Using ultrasound, researchers were able to stimulate microglial cells (a type of support cell that removes waste) to clear toxic protein clumps, and fully restore memory functions in 75% of the mice – without damaging brain tissue.  While further studies and trials are necessary and cautious skepticism should remain, the study’s co-author Professor Jürgen Götz believes the new treatment could “revolutionize Alzheimer’s treatment.”

Reported next steps in this research will be to scale the treatment to higher animal models (sheep), followed by human clinical trials beginning in 2017.  What do you think, does this type of research sound promising?

To read more about Alzheimer’s visit www.psychcentral.com.