The Year Ahead for Research

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The start of the neScreen Shot 2017-01-08 at 10.00.54 PMw year is a good time to take stock of treatment advances for preventing, delaying the onset, or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. There is no denying that 2016 held a number of disappointments on the research front. Clinical trials of drugs that reduced or eliminated Abeta failed to result in any cognitive improvement.  The first clinical trial of a drug targeting Tau also failed.


Despite this gloomy track record, researchers continued to develop tools and complete research that advances our understanding of this disease.  Efforts in 2017 will likely build on this knowledge. Here are research areas that may provide stepping stones to more insight and ultimately effective treatments:

  • Approval of a scanning technique for tau. The development of scanning techniques to locate Abeta deposits in the brain greatly increased our understanding of the disease process. Researchers reportedly are close to developing a dye that will allow PET scans that identify tau protein accumulations. Knowing when and the conditions under which tau forms should further advance our understanding of Alzheimer’s.
  • Identification of Biomarkers. Clinical research relies on the use of biomarkers, physical characteristics that can be measured as indicators of a specific medical condition. The scientific community has yet to identify any biomarker for Alzheimer’s. Such a measurement would greatly advance the research into this disease.
  • Refinement of the Amyloid Hypothesis. A number of clinical trials continue to focus on removing amyloid deposits. Although some medications reduce amyloid, none have shown any change in cognition or function.   As these studies amass more data, they will either confirm or a reject the amyloid hypothesis.
  • Understanding the Drop in Prevalence. There were several peer-reviewed papers that establish that the percentage of the population with Alzheimer’s in developed countries is dropping. More research needs to be done to determine which changes in life style caused this result. Key factors appear to be sleep, diet and exercise. Future research may teach us how these factors interact, and how much change in any one area is necessary  to develop protection against Alzheimer’s.


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