With 2017 behind us, Alzheimer’s News Today looks forward to bringing our readers news and updates on Alzheimer’s disease research discoveries, treatment developments, clinical trials, and events in the year ahead. But as a reminder of all the great work being done to find treatments and improve the lives of those with Alzheimer’s, we will start the year by summing up the top 10 most-read stories of 2017.
A conference on the use of medical marijuana in Alzheimer’s disease in Florida attracted the attention of many of our readers. The symposium gathered medical professionals and focused on both medical and legal aspects of the use of cannabis-derived substances for the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients. Some researchers believe that such substances may improve dementia symptoms and slow or prevent disease progression.
This study reported that two drugs — Desyrel (trazodone hydrochloride), which is approved for depression, anxiety, and insomnia, and dibenzoylmethane (DBM), which is being tested in clinical trials for cancer — prevented brain tissue loss in mice. Since the medications have already been found safe in humans, researchers hope to soon test the drugs in Alzheimer’s patients.
Speaking two languages seems to protect the brain from the ravaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease, this study found. Alzheimer’s patients who spoke two languages had significantly better memories than their single-language speaking peers, despite being older and having poorer brain metabolism. Researchers believe that using and switching between two languages builds more nerve cell connections in the frontal part of the brain, offering alternate pathways for cognitive tasks when neurons start dying.
The news that Genentech started a second Phase 3 trial of crenezumab generated plenty of attention among our readers. Crenezumab, developed by Genentech’s partner AC Immune, is an antibody that targets the Alzheimer’s disease-related protein amyloid-beta. The trial (NCT03114657) accompanies another Phase 3 study (NCT02670083) of the compound. Both studies are still recruiting participants.
Men with a high cholesterol or high egg intake do not have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to this study from Finland. Daily egg consumption and cholesterol-rich food did not even impact the risk among APOE4 carriers — a gene variant related to cholesterol metabolism, which also increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The study negated the findings of earlier research, which found a link between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s. In fact, it found egg intake to be beneficial for cognition.
Another highly popular story which focused on diet described how extra-virgin olive oil protected mice with Alzheimer’s from memory decline. Mice fed olive oil from a young age performed better on memory tests, had less telltale Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles, and more nerve cell connections — suggesting that olive oil may, at least in part, explain the observed beneficial effects of a Mediterranean diet. Researchers are now exploring whether olive oil also shows beneficial effects when introduced at a time when plaque and tangles already exist.
Unlike the many studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of enough sleep, this study demonstrated that sleeping too much may predict the onset of dementia. People without a high school education and who slept more than nine hours a night had a six-times increased risk of developing dementia within 10 years. People who slept more also had smaller brains, suggesting that screening for this type of sleep abnormality may help in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Last year’s third most-read story took a look at aluminum levels in the brains of patients with familial Alzheimer’s. These people tend to fall ill at an early age, and researchers from England found dangerously high levels of aluminum throughout these patients’ brains. Earlier research suggests that amyloid-beta can bind aluminum, and researchers believe the metal might, at least in some cases, trigger Alzheimer’s by boosting the aggregation of amyloid-beta.
The IDEAS (Imaging Dementia — Evidence for Amyloid Scanning) study is one of the largest efforts to better understand Alzheimer’s disease using brain imaging. In 2017, three additional studies were added to the project. The three add-on studies will link additional information to data gathered through IDEAS. The Amyloid Neuroimaging and Genetics Initiative (ANGI) collects genetic data; the Brain Health Registry focuses on lifestyle, cognitive, and health data; and CARE IDEAS will interview 3,500 patients and their care partners to estimate the effect of amyloid imaging results on how patients and their care partners plan for the future.
The most-read story in 2017 was yet another focusing on environmental factors that may mitigate the risk of dementia. This study from Singapore found that drinking tea was linked to better cognition and a lower risk of neurocognitive disease. In fact, the more tea a person drank, the larger the protective effect. Various tea types — black, green, and oolong — were equally beneficial, researchers said, but noted that the protective effect was really seen only in women and people with the APOE4 risk gene.
While we hope that these top 10 stories have helped to inform and raise hope among Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones. Alzheimer’s News Today hopes that 2018 will bring more news about treatments that may change the course of this devastating illness.