Current Alzheimer's disease treatments seek to increase performance of certain biochemicals that carry information from one brain cell to another. However they do not prevent or halt the slow death of brain cells. And, of course, Alzheimer's disease progresses as more brain cells die.
Researchers from around the world are working tirelessly to find new treatments to prevent and/or slow Alzheimer's disease. However, new drugs take years to produce from concept to market. Researchers are making great progress in comparing healthy brain function to the ways in which brain function goes wrong for those affected by Alzheimer's disease.
At this time, there are several FDA-approved drugs that treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, temporarily assisting with memory and cognition problems for approximately half of the people who take them. Unfortunately, these medications do not treat the underlying causes of this degenerative brain disease.
Many of the new drugs being developed, however, seek to actually impact the disease process by affecting one or more of the many brain changes caused by Alzheimer's disease. Many researchers believe that successful treatment will eventually involve a combination of medications similar to a cancer or AIDS “cocktail” of drugs.
The key obstacles for Alzheimer’s research include the need for volunteers for clinical trials, as well as the need for federal research funding. In addition to testing experimental drugs, many clinical trials include various brain imaging studies and involve testing the blood or spinal fluid. The hope is that these techniques may provide early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, ideally before symptoms appear, which offers the most hope for treatment.
Another new approach to testing experimental drugs focuses on individuals with rare genetic mutations that will definitely develop into Alzheimer's disease eventually. One testing project involves an extended family in Antioquia, Colombia, in South America in which 5,000 members have inherited the Alzheimer's gene. Familial Alzheimer's disease is referred to as autosomal-dominant Alzheimer's disease (ADAD).