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Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness: Good News on the Horizon

Somehow in the holiday rush, November is over, but it’s not too late to remind our readers that it November was also National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month. Today, there are approximately 5.4 million individuals living with Alzheimer’s, and more than 15 million caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

This year’s theme was “Go Purple,” and supporters were asked to wear purple ribbons and use Alzheimer’s Association purple-themed social media icons. More importantly, increased public awareness about Alzheimer’s and support for dedicated caregivers are key rationales for recognizing the month, which is marked by a Presidential proclamation.

A recent article at celebrates five cutting-edge findings and developments in Alzheimer’s research. All of them have been announced in just the last month. If even one of them is a true breakthrough, we may all have something truly worth celebrating!

We encourage you to read the full article here, but some highlights follow:

  • New theory of Alzheimer’s development. A research team at Georgetown University Medical Center just announced that tau, a protein located in neurons, appears to be what leads to neuron death in such disorders as Alzheimer’s Disease – and not amuloid-beta plaque, as previously thought. One implication of this finding is that previously unconsidered drugs, such as the cancer medication nilontinib, might be used to combat the disorder. An article published last week provides further details on this research. In “New direction for Alzheimer’s research, with hope of finding cure,” the results of numerous related studies are summarized and hope is offered that a refocus on a primary causative process will open new avenues for disease management or even prevention.

  • Inflammatory molecular switch. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified an apparent switch that controls many inflammatory processes that are associated with a variety of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s. A recent report found that a signaling molecule, nitric oxide, increases inflammation and ultimately, cell death, in many age-related disorders. Once confirmed, this process can be targeted by inhibitor drugs to control the inflammatory process.

  • Brain bank. Duke University recently provided details about its literal brain bank of over 1,200 human brains which were donated over the past 25 years, along with information on a living cohort study that provides statistics about over 1,500 healthy adults involved in a longitudinal study on mental processes. Seemingly endless data on Alzheimer’s management appears inevitable.

  • Newly identified cognitive disease. At the University of Kentucky, a team of researchers says it has identified and established diagnostic criteria for an entirely new neurological disease that closely resembles Alzheimer’s. Known as Primary Age-Related Tauopathy (PART), it appears to target and tangle tau proteins (see #1 above). Focusing appropriate attention on related illnesses such also improve the accuracy of new clinical studies and trials targeted toward Alzheimer’s management. In Medical News Today, a recent article describes this research in greater detail. “Researchers identify new neurological disorder linked to Alzheimer’s” notes one particularly startling statistic: as many as 25% of patients with mild cognitive impairment, often considered a precursor for Alzheimer’s show no signs of beta-amyloid plaque, but only tau tangles. This finding would suggest that they might actually be in the early stages of a different disorder altogether.

  • Anxiety and Alzheimer’s. Finally, Florida’s Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute announced findings about the affect of anxiety on the development of Alzheimer’s. In a study of 376 older adults, they found that individuals with mild cognitive impairment had a greatly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s if they had mild to severe anxiety.

During this holiday period of thanksgiving and miracles, it seems only fitting that we celebrate the research communities that are providing so many families with hopes for better holidays to come.

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