Two Novel Solutions to Treat Alzheimer’s Come to LightBy Miriam Bello | Tue, 09/21/2021 - 17:05
In the wake of World Alzheimer’s Day, in which doctors aim to raise awareness about the disease, common symptoms and risk factors, we highlight two recent innovations to treat this disease and support those suffering it.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia thought to begin 20 years or more before symptoms arise. Symptoms occur once the neurons in parts of the brain become damaged or destroyed. One of the first indicators of incipient Alzheimer’s disease is the development of mild cognitive impairment. Eventually, neurons in parts of the brain that enable a person to carry out basic bodily functions, such as walking and swallowing, are affected. Individuals become bed-bound and require around-the-clock care. Alzheimer’s disease is ultimately fatal.
In Mexico, Alzheimer’s over 350,000 individuals over 65 years of age and causes 2,030 annual deaths. It is estimated that one in three adults will face this disease. Deaths from Alzheimer's and dementia increased by 16 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are widespread efforts to combat this disease, ranging from medicines to tech. Researchers at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Lithuania, developed a deep-learning computer algorithm that can accurately detect and differentiate the stages of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) from fMRI scans with over 99 percent accuracy. MCI does not always progress to Alzheimer's disease, but it often does so its early detection may allow people who have it to benefit more from treatment.
Although it is possible to recognize MCI manually in fMRI images, this is a time-consuming task that requires detailed knowledge. As such, it is an ideal candidate for automation using deep learning. The researchers modified a well-known existing algorithm, ResNet 18, to fine-tune it for detecting MCI. After the training process, the researchers tested the algorithm by classifying fMRI scans from 138 individuals. The scans depicted six cognitive stages, starting at healthy control and moving through MCI to Alzheimer’s. This algorithm was 99.99 percent accurate in differentiating between early MCI and Alzheimer’s.
On the other hand, numerous researchers are developing drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. Two of months ago, the FDA approved a controversial Alzheimer’s treatment developed by Pharmaceutical Biogen: aducanumab. TIME Magazine reported at the time that there were even allegations that the FDA had an “inappropriately close relationship” with the pharmaceutical industry.
This drug had been previously submitted to an FDA panel in November 2020 but Biogen had failed to gain support as “data from a single clinical trial with positive results was insufficient to show Biogen’s drug works,” shared Bloomberg. The second time, Biogen presented data from two aducanumab trials at a conference in December. Aducanumab is an antibody designed to remove amyloid plaque from the brain but during “only one of two large-scale trials showed that it significantly slowed progression of the disease,” reported Reuters.
The Alzheimer’s Association, a patient advocacy and research group, on the other hand, stands by the approval of aducanumab and says that patients should have the option of deciding whether or not they want to use it.