The first Alzheimer's Association grants were awarded in 1982 and included a study drug targeting the communication network in the brain by working to slow down the process that breaks these connections. Today, many of the new drugs in development are taking a different approach by aiming to modify the disease process itself. They intend to recruit the immune system by using the body’s own antibodies to prevent the buildup of the memory loss‑causing beta-amyloid plaques, and even to block the production of these plaques in the brain entirely. Researchers are also studying the effects of insulin on the brain, hoping to determine if an insulin nasal spray might slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. The heart-head connection is being explored due to growing evidence that suggests the risk of developing this life-altering disease appears to increase as a result of conditions that damage the heart or arteries. It may even be possible for blood pressure medications to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Some of the new Alzheimer's treatments in development target microscopic clumps of the protein beta-amyloid. These clumps of beta-amyloid are known as plaques and are a characteristic sign of Alzheimer's disease. The drugs that would aim to recruit the immune system are known as monoclonal antibodies, which may not only prevent the beta-amyloid proteins from clumping into plaques, but also may help to clear these proteins from the brain. These types of drugs imitate the antibodies that the body produces naturally in response to foreign elements. Drugs that would prevent destruction of the nerve cell connections in the brain circulate around a somewhat newly discovered protein called Fyn. Fyn, when combined with beta-amyloid, is over-activated and causes the destruction of the nerve cell connections that are associated with the repetitive memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s. Studies have also shown that two enzymes, beta- and gamma- secretase, may be directly related to the production of beta-amyloid. Drugs based on inhibiting these two enzymes may block the production of beta-amyloid, therefore reducing the amount of the protein formed in the brain. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “many researchers believe successful treatment will eventually involve a ‘cocktail’ of medications aimed at several targets, similar to current state-of-the-art treatments for many cancers and AIDS.”
Developing new treatments can be a long and tedious process, so in response to the need of further research, multiple organizations, including pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit foundations, and government advisers, have formed an alliance called the Coalition Against Major Diseases (CAMD) to share data from Alzheimer’s clinical trials. According to the Mayo Clinic, “researchers anticipate that sharing these data from more than 4,000 study participants will speed development of more-effective therapies.” Banding together to create this type of an alliance is a grand gesture in the competitive world of research and will hopefully lead to greater success in the treatment of this debilitating disorder.