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Mixed News From the Alzheimer’s Research Front

August 8, 2019

Two people looking out over mountain

Alzheimer’s disease remains stubbornly resistant to cures, though some progress is being made, especially on the diagnostic side.

“We don’t have a lot of positive news these days,” Martin Tolar, CEO of Alzheon, told STAT  for a story on last month’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles. “But I do believe there’s a lot of incredible science built over the past 20 years.”

Dementia caused by Alzheimer’s afflicts an estimated 5.5 million Americans, mostly 65 or older. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country.

One bright spot is diagnosis. Researchers at the conference discussed an evolving blood test that’s comparable in effectiveness to brain scans. The test for abnormal proteins correctly identified 92% of people who had Alzheimer’s and correctly ruled out 85% who did not have it, for an overall accuracy of 88%, according to researchers. Because a blood test is easy and affordable enough for a routine checkup, it could lead to earlier intervention.

Other good news from the conference: Research funding is up, and scientists are delving deeper into the disease’s root causes, including genes and molecular pathways.

Also, new data links a healthy lifestyle to reduced dementia risk. The University of Exeter (UK) found that the risk of dementia was 32% lower in people with a high genetic risk if they had followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those who had an unhealthy lifestyle. Participants with high genetic risk and an unfavorable lifestyle were almost three times more likely to develop dementia compared to those with a low genetic risk and favorable lifestyle.

Lifestyle categories were based on self-reported diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.

New drugs are scarce

On the negative side, the prevailing hypothesis that beta-amyloid plaque buildup erodes memory and other functions is not leading to cures.

“… [N]ot a single one of the roughly 200 experimental amyloid-targeting drugs has worked in late-stage clinical trials. One of the most devastating failures came earlier this year, when one of the industry’s standard-bearers, Biogen (BIIB), pulled out of a Phase 3 trial, shattering patients and families who had hoped the experimental drug, aducanumab, would work,” writes Meghana Keshavan  in the STAT piece.

Human biospecimens help drive research, whether it’s patently successful or simply adding to the body of knowledge. Blood samples are essential for developing blood tests, and many biospecimens can be used for genomic sequencing. Viable cells are needed for research, such as clinical trials involving new stem cell treatment for Alzheimer’s patients.

Getting more done using human biospecimens

Blood and hematopoietic stem and immune cells are among the myriad human biospecimens iSpecimen offers to researchers on the iSpecimen Marketplace. The Marketplace enables researchers to search, refine and select the specimens they need from the patients they want, reducing the time, cost and complexity of specimen procurement. That means more research gets done sooner, which is critical for future Alzheimer’s patients.

“While the amyloid debate rages on, perhaps more quietly now, neuroscientists across disciplines are increasingly coming to a consensus,” concludes Keshavan. “Alzheimer’s, like cancer or even heart disease, will require a combination therapy approach. Perhaps it will take a combination of an amyloid-targeting drug, and a tau-targeting drug, and maybe something else entirely. Precision medicine, particularly as it’s used in cancer, may also prove important.”

At iSpecimen, we will do everything we can to help.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.