In the quest to conquer Alzheimer’s disease, new drugs that can be used long before the effects of the disease take hold are being tested. These drugs can target and diminish production of a specific protein found in the brain – Beta-amyloid – that’s thought to cause Alzheimer’s.
“The field of Alzheimer’s care has changed significantly in recent years,” says Michael Mega, M.D., Ph.D. Mega is a Cognitive Neurologist and founder of the Center for Cognitive Health in Portland. “Science is no longer testing people with full-blown Alzheimer’s, because it’s known that anti-amyloid drugs don’t work when the disease is that advanced.
The Center for Cognitive Health is participating in clinical trials testing new drugs to treat the early stages of memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s.
It’s long been hypothesized that Beta-amyloid plaques, the sticky buildup surrounding neurons in the brain, are the cause of Alzheimer’s.
“The emergence of Amyloid-PET (Positron Emission Tomography) enables the amyloid plaque to be visualized in the living brain,” says Mega. “It allows us to select people who are at risk to develop Alzheimers disease, and then administer these anti-amyloid compounds to see if we can slow cognitive decline.”
The biological purpose of amyloid protein is not well understood. “Some data indicate that a byproduct of its production helps the “pruning” process during the first year of life,” says Mega, who’s worked in the cognitive health field for 27 years. “That’s a time when neurons not being used for sensory perception are “pruned” to allow others being used to become stronger.”
Amyloid, and other misfolded proteins, appears to be cleared from the brain during REM sleep as a form of daily de-toxing. Hence, there’s a theory that REM sleep abnormalities are a precursor to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other degenerative diseases.
Because amyloid deposits in the brain appear to peak about 10 years before memory symptoms occur, scientists are committed to determining when anti-amyloids should best be administered.
Keep an eye out for new research opportunities being offered at the Center for Cognitive Health!