MEDICAL MOMENT: Saving Memories
Three Alzheimer’s breakthroughs
Right now, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s.
“There is a huge need for new Alzheimer’s disease treatments,” says Jason Ulrich, research professor at Washington University School of Medicine.
One major breakthrough in the lab is a blood test that predicts the onset of Alzheimer’s 20 years before symptoms occur. It works by detecting the buildup of microscopic clumps of amyloid plaques in the brain.
“These clumps kind of break up the communication between our neurons that are needed for us to think and remember and do things that we normally do,” says Randall Bateman, professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine report that when the amyloid levels are combined with age and a gene variant, brain changes can be identified with 94 percent accuracy.
But that’s not all. Now, they are working to create a blood test to determine the presence of tangles that occur after Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.
“So, when people do have subtle memory problems, we can tell whether, is it really due to Alzheimer’s disease, or is it likely due to some other cause?” Bateman says.
These simple blood tests could be available during a regular doctors visit within two years, bypassing the need for expensive tests and procedures.
“We can send as many people as we want to get a blood test and they can get it that day,” says Suzanne Schindler, neurologist at Washington University.
Another breakthrough uses antibodies to alert the immune system to the presence of plaques and directs immune cells to remove them.
“When we administer it to mouse models that develop this disease, it removes these plaques from the brain and from the blood vessels,” Ulrich says.
It’s three ways researchers are working to save our memories before it’s too late.
In June, the FDA approved the first new drug for the disease in 18 years.
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