Advances in Alzheimer’s Meeting
Twice a year, medical professionals and experts meet to discuss recent research updates on drug therapies targeted at Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, respectively. The most recent update, held virtually from April 2-5th 2020, showed promising advances using therapies targeting neuroinflammation, cortisol management and synaptic signaling.
The first piece of research news involved a nutrient drink known as Souvenaid.
This nutraceutical drink contains a combination of fish oils, vitamins and other nutrients that support synaptic health (the term nutraceutical refers to a combination of fatty acids, amino acids and vitamins). Maintaining synaptic connectivity in the brain is considered a crucial preventative measure in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. The loss of synaptic connection is a hallmark of the neurocognitive disease.
To measure the efficacy of Souvenaid, a yogurt-like drink to be consumed once daily, researchers followed the health of 311 individuals who showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease but were not yet formally diagnosed. The group of subjects had a mean age of 71 years old. After two years, these individuals achieved better results on a screening called the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale. Additionally, brain scans showed that their hippocampi shrunk less than individuals who didn’t consume the drink. The hippocampus is a brain structure vital to memory and shrinks throughout the course of Alzheimer’s disease. Independent studies emphasized that Souvenaid is likely more effective the earlier it is taken.
The second area of research discussed at the Advances in Alzheimer’s meeting was in relation to inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.
It is commonly known that inflammation from various origins drive the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers genetically generated an antibody that blocks certain types of inflammation. This antibody, known as pepinemab, slowed brain atrophy and improved some behaviors related to the disease.
The use of epigenetic regulation was also a heavily discussed topic at the research forum. Modifying genes and DNA altered the course of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers began implementing the idea of modifying genes and altering DNA in studies with animals. One study showed that mice with Alzheimer’s showed increased learning and memory skills while also showing a decline in aggressive behaviors associated with the neurocognitive condition.
By regulating gene expression, researchers altered DNA sequences that reduced biomarkers of Alzheimer’s. while other topics of research at the meeting focused on study subjects with early-state or mild Alzheimer’s, this type of epigenetic regulation was more effective in individuals with moderate Alzheimer’s disease. A study site in Barcelona, Spain, enrolled 12 patients with Alzheimer’s who demonstrated behaviors defined as aggressive. Using the same biomarker regulation used in the animal studies, these participants showed an 80% improvement on screening tools that measure negative behaviors.
The final topic of the Advances in Alzheimer’s research meeting demonstrated how managing the stress hormone boosts cognition of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is heavily implicated in the onset and decline of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias. A biotechnology company, Actinogen, developed a molecule called Xanamem that helps reduce the production of cortisol. A consultant for Actinogen, explained that Xanamem binds itself to a particular enzyme that, unmanaged, eventually develops into cortisol. This binding process suppresses the production of the stress hormone. Individuals with mild Alzheimer’s disease performed better on screenings of working memory, motor function and visual attention after four weeks of drug therapy using Xanamem.
These findings from the Advances in Alzheimer’s meeting are promising. In a time when every clinical trial designed to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s has not been completely successful, these studies illuminate the fact that there are multiple other avenues not previously explored. Another noteworthy consideration is that these updates show promising results without targeting amyloid beta and tau, two biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Since other studies specifically aiming to alter these two biomarkers have not ultimately achieved the desired results, researchers are hopeful using other routes within the brain will offer more success.