More than five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, a number that’s expected to grow to 16 million by 2050. The race is on to find a cure for this devastating disease, and so far, 2017 has seen some promising breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research.
On the Search for Better Biomarkers
In March, the National Institutes of Health developed a new consortium to identify biomarkers that would lead to early detection of Alzheimer’s. The five-year project is a collaboration among Massachusetts General Hospital, the National Institute on aging, and the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Genetic Assessment Developed to Determine Risk
Also in March, an international team of scientists developed a genetic scoring system that enables people to calculate their age-specific risk of developing Alzheimer’s based on their genetic information. The researchers combined genotype-derived polygenic information to instantaneously determine an estimated risk of developing the disease.
Protein Mystery Solved
In February, leading neuroscientists published research that clarified the role of TREM2, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease that’s long left researchers confused and conflicted. The new research found that removing TREM2 early in the disease reduces harmful protein plaques that accumulate in brain cells, whereas removing TREM2 later in the disease has the opposite effect, increasing these harmful protein plaques. This research provides guidance for timing certain treatment approaches for early and late stages of the disease.
Games, Crafts, and Other Activities May Safeguard the Brain
In January, researchers concluded that playing games like bridge and chess, using the computer, making crafts, and socializing with others appear to help prevent mild cognitive impairment that can increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Even in seniors who have a gene variation that’s linked to Alzheimer’s, those who engaged in activities that stimulate the mind were less likely to experience the mental decline that often precedes the dementia.