Two pieces of research published this week reveal a timeline for the development of Alzheimer’s and a protective gene that helps to prevent the disease in a small percentage of the population. The two papers are published in the scientific journals The New England Journal of Medicine and Nature.
Alzheimer’s timeline might help early treatment and diagnosis
Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine studied individuals with a genetic risk for early onset Alzheimer’s. They revealed that changes in the brain occur at least two decades before the onset of clinical symptoms, suggesting that current diagnoses are usually made at an advanced stage of the disease’s biological development.
These results may have dramatic implications for the diagnosis and treatment of those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s at an early age.
“The ability to detect the very earliest stages of Alzheimer's would not only allow people to plan and access care and existing treatments far sooner, but would also enable new drugs to be trialled in the right people, at the right time," commented Dr Eric Karran, director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK.
Rare protective gene prevents Alzheimer’s
A few lucky people appear to carry a genetic mutation which prevents them from developing Alzheimer’s.
The mutation — the first ever found to protect against the disease — lies in a gene that produces amyloid precursor protein (APP), which has long been suspected to be at the heart of Alzheimer’s although its function is still largely unknown. This research does seem to point a finger at amyloid-β, the target for several therapies being investigated to see if they can slow the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. However, scientists say this doesn’t mean it’s the only factor.
A new report by the UK patient group The Alzheimer’s Society has revealed that six in every ten dementia sufferers remain undiagnosed.
This revelation sadly also diminishes the excitement of last week’s news; that Alzheimer’s sufferers can benefit from drugs longer than first thought. It was previously believed that anti-dementia drugs were effective only in the early stages, but work at King’s College London has shown medication to remain effective even in the severe stages.
However, the UK seems to be in the midst of an epidemic. Not of Alzheimer’s but, as The Daily Telegraph reports, a case of ‘therapeutic nihilism’. This is the belief that it is pointless trying to help an individual with Alzheimer’s and consequently individuals are not encouraged to visit their GP.
Although currently there is no cure, treatment can make a real difference to someone’s life but only if doctors get to see the patient.
For more information on the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s please explore this site.