Alzheimer’s Breakthroughs – 2021, A Year in Review

The past year has brought plenty of exciting and encouraging developments in the research of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Here, we review the Alzheimer’s breakthroughs that occurred in 2021. From studies to treatments, we highlight the biggest news and shed some light on what is next in fighting the disease.

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough News

The biggest news in Alzheimer’s disease research of 2021 was the approval of the Aduhelm (aducanumab) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This represents the first ever drug approved that aims to treat the underlying disease process, rather than just treat the symptoms.

Our center was involved in studying this compound along with several others that work on beta-amyloid, one of the culprits in Alzheimer’s disease. As part of the team that review this data for the FDA, we were impressed with the promise but concerned about the data and would have preferred a limited release under strict control rather than full approval. Significant controversy remains about the proper indications for Aduhelm.

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Cause studies:

Clinical studies for the causes and origins of Alzheimer’s disease are ongoing and we’ve featured some of the most noteworthy cases for the year that offer hope in the development of prevention and treatment of the illness.

A Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center study deals with the malfunctioning brain cells called senescent cells, which may be critical in the development of treatment for patients with AD. Instead of dying, the cells function abnormally, cause inflammation, and kill surrounding cells within the brain, causing neurocognitive decline. The experimental therapy to remove the senescent cells stopped the disease progression and cell death. Future treatments can be based on this discovery and offer hope to those with the disease.

The Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute at Curtin University in Perth, Australia reports finding a new factor responsible for neurodegenerative conditions. “To find new opportunities to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s, we need to understand what actually causes the disease, and presently that is not established,” said Dr. John Mamo, Ph.D., author of the study. “This study,” he added, “shows that exaggerated abundance in blood of potentially toxic fat-protein complexes can damage microscopic brain blood vessels called capillaries and, thereafter, leak into the brain, causing inflammation and brain cell death.”

A Vanderbilt University Medical Center study found that a nanoparticle emitted from cells called a “supermere” contains enzymes, proteins, and RNA associated with Alzheimer’s disease, among other illnesses. The amyloid-beta protein known to be associated with AD was found in these nanoparticles and can cross the blood-brain barrier. This discovery can lead to improved early diagnosis or treatment of AD.

The National Institute on Aging funded a study by Columbia University that uncovered higher-than-normal levels of tau proteins in a set of diverse people diagnosed with AD. This study was important in finding biomarkers in diverse populations, as most previous studies only involved participants of European descent with little ethnic diversity. The research team looked for trends in AD-related biomarkers and discovered a form of the tau protein (ptau217) was a more accurate marker than the previous indicator, beta-amyloid.

Finally, an important finding by the University of Cincinnati and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden reveals that the amyloid-beta peptide protein levels in the brain may be the key to developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The elimination of amyloid plaques has so far been the concentration of many studies and treatments, however, the decrease in the brain protein that can, over time, develop into these plaques is being studied as a primary cause of cognitive decline.

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Treatment Studies:

The race to find a viable treatment of AD is fast and furious, with close to 6 million people in the United States suffering from the condition. The past year has yielded several promising treatments under analysis.

A study out of the University of Colorado Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center has presented evidence that suggests Sargramostim (GM-CSF) is the first drug that shows AD patient improvement in phase two clinical trials. The treatment stimulates bone marrow to make more of certain types of white blood cells that remove bacteria, cells, and amyloid deposits where they don’t belong.

Two AD antibody therapies were granted FDA breakthrough designations in June of 2021. Lecanemab and donanemab both focus on the amyloid proteins in the brain, but each has a different approach. We are currently studying patients taking both of these compounds. The support from the FDA in creating a faster pathway to more research is assuring the Alzheimer’s community and provides hope for more viable treatments in the future.

As with any treatment, please consult with your neurologist about treating any cognitive disorders. Dr. Michael Tuchman and the staff at Palm Beach Neurological Center have been offering expert care for a variety of neurological disorders for over 30 years. Contact their office in Palm Beach Gardens at 561-694-1010 or contact us online.

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