Research into Alzheimer's disease is moving at a rapid pace. Soon, newer treatments or even a cure may be in sight.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a disorder marked with a decline in mental abilities such as memory, communication, and language. Alzheimer's disease is a type of neurodegenerative disease that affect the neurons in the brain.

Scientists have long suspected that a substance known as amyloid plaques, which accumulate outside the brain cells, may be the cause of this brain damage. Amyloid plaques are made by amyloid protein. Although the protein is necessary for our immune systems – and produces scattered amyloid plaques in healthy people – scientists now know that the brains of people with Alzheimer's are littered with amyloid plaques. Consequently, one of the key areas of Alzheimer's research is focused on preventing the creation of these plaques by targeting the amyloid protein.

Scientists also suspect that an abnormal structure called tau tangles build up inside the brain cells and causes damage. Tau tangles are twisted fibres of protein called tau. The tangles interfere with the transport of essential brain chemicals and molecules. The changes caused by amyloid plaques and tau tangles eventually cause damage and death of brain cells.

Treatment research

Enzyme inhibitors would be capable of targeting and effectively neutralizing the enzyme that plays a significant role in plaque production. The two enzymes involved are beta-secretase and gamma-secretase. Scientists are currently working on this.

Tau is another protein that may be involved in Alzheimer's disease by forming tau tangles. Researchers are looking into ways to prevent tau from tangling. Tau vaccines and tau aggregation inhibitors are being studied currently.

Monoclonal antibodies may prevent accumulation of amyloid plaque and clear the amyloid protein from the brain. Monoclonal antibodies mimic the antibodies of the body’s immune system and fight foreign invaders. A few monoclonal antibodies have shown promise in the studies. Further researches are in the works.

Microglia is found to be more active in the brains of people with Alzheimer's and in people with early signs of Alzheimer's who are still functioning well. Microglia is formed as a part of immune response. Microglia initially helps to clear amyloid plaques, but they may produce compounds that damage nearby brain cells. Currently researchers are looking at a drug that modulates microglia and help reduce inflammation in the brain.

Insulin resistance is another feature of Alzheimer’s disease, although the mechanism is not fully understood yet. Currently, researchers are looking at testing intranasal insulin in people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.  

As the body of research into Alzheimer's grows, it will produce a variety of treatment options.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team