Alzheimer’s Disease Research
ASK DR. MINDY™
MINDY KIM-MILLER, MD, PhD
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With more people living longer and developing Alzheimer’s Disease, what type of research is there on finding a cure?
–R Phillips, 67, Atlanta.
There is a tremendous amount of ongoing research on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) therapies. I will briefly describe some of the different strategies that researchers are using.
A large area of research focuses on preventing or reducing the production of beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, two characteristic structures believed to be involved in the disease process. One approach is to interfere with the many steps in the formation of plaques and tangles. Many of these studies focus on the function of proteases (proteins that cut other proteins into smaller components) and enzyme modulators (proteins that affect the speed of chemical reactions) important in the production of the building block of plaques and tangles. Other studies look at factors that affect the brain’s metabolism of fats, such as HDL and apoE; changing the way the brain uses certain fats may slow the formation of plaques. Another approach is to find ways of increasing the clearance of abnormal proteins important in the production of plaques or tangles after they are produced.
There is a lot of research looking at factors that reduce the risk developing or rate of progression of AD. Some of these factors include things that one can take, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antioxidants, AMPAkinases (an enzyme that affects a receptor important in brain signaling), Ginkgo biloba (a supplement thought to improve memory), and the hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Other factors being studied pertain to individual characteristics, such as family history, genetics, past head injuries, educational level, and occupation. Researchers hope to find which factors increase the risk for getting AD, and how to modify those factors to decrease the likelihood of developing AD.