Alzheimer’s – Is There a Way Out?

  • 09-Aug-2019   
  • | Fathima Khaja Mohaideen
  • | 300
  • Average Reading Time: 3 minutes and 7 seconds   

Alzheimer's was first identified at the end of the 19th century; when German women, a homemaker named Auguste Deter, showed signs of mental decline. She was only 51 then. When she died, Alois Alzheimer, a neuropathologist, and his partner, Emil Kraepelin, did an autopsy and found that Frau Deter's brain was clogged with lumpy, oval-shaped clumps, plaques of the protein beta-amyloid and tangles of a protein now known as tau. The men agreed the new disease would be named after Alzheimer.

There are several forms of Alzheimer's, a relatively rare kind that runs in families; an early-onset variety that strikes in mid-life (about five percent), and the more common disorder found in people — more likely women — later in life, usually people in their 70s and 80s. Beginning very early in life, people naturally acquire a damaging substance called tau in the brain. It has been found in children as young as 10 years old as well.

With various researches ongoing at numerous institutes and centers, drug tests are divided into four groups.

  • Phase 1 trials are done on small groups of volunteers just to see if they are safe.
  • Phase 2 trials are on larger groups to see if they work at all and also check safety.
  • Phase 3 is a test of an even larger group for efficacy, to see if they are better than what is already available, and again, safety.
  • Phase 4 is to watch the drug after it goes to market.

No drug is approved until it has passed phase 3. Sadly, none have passed either!

The goal is to spot Alzheimer's before a person knows they have it. Scientists are taking two approaches that might detect Alzheimer's disease before symptoms: imaging and biomarkers. Imaging has been somewhat successful, particularly using fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging. The other approach is to find markers in spinal fluid that would indicate the presence of amyloid and tau in the brain. Because the cerebrospinal fluid washes the brain, it would indicate the presence of the two proteins. If there is only a little bit of amyloid in the fluid, it is likely in the brain, which is bad news. If there is plenty of tau, the person also is more likely to have Alzheimer's. The problem with the biomarker tests is that they involve a needle puncture into the spinal column, a process that is invasive, sometimes painful and risky. That's one reason it is harder to get participants in trials for these tests.

Alzheimer’s research is greatly expanding in the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia 2020, to make Great Britain "the best country in the world for dementia care and support." Research funding is going from £26.6 million (around $40 million) to £66.3 million (almost $100 million) this year.

A study showed that between 2000 and 2012, 244 compounds were tested in 413 clinical trials. Only one was approved for use, a failure rate of 99.6 percent. Although no one knows exactly how much the pharmaceutical industry is spending on Alzheimer’s research it likely is in the billions. The National Institutes of Health spends $586 million to $638 million every year. But unfortunately, all tests have been failures till date.

How much more study and research is going to go into this? No one knows, but sooner or later, there will be an answer. At least that’s what research hopes to. Only time can tell.


With Double Masters in Communication, Fathima has found herself calling as a free lance writer. When she’s not penning down the latest news and discovering the newest happenings, she can be seen travelling, cheering on her favourite sports teams and trying out new food.

Fathima Khaja Mohaideen