The Two Obstacles That Are Holding Back Alzheimer’s Research

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    The first clinical trial examining a drug to treat Alzheimer’s began 30 years ago. There is still no cure and no known way to prevent the disease. Two factors may contribute to that

    • Thirty years ago, scientists began to unlock the mysteries regarding the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. This knowledge ushered in an era of great enthusiasm that scientists could develop new therapies to either prevent Alzheimer’s or significantly slow the symptoms once present.

    Despite continued progress and renewed hope that some therapies now in human trials will modify the course of the disease, the initial optimism of neuroscientists like me has been significantly tempered by reality. Numerous therapies, most with sound scientific basis, have been tested and shown to be ineffective in humans with symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease.

    Like the war on cancer, the war on Alzheimer’s disease is not going to be won in a single glorious “battle”. Instead, I believe incremental yet transformative progress will eventually lead to success. Unlike cancer, the scientific community does not yet have any “survivor stories” to buoy our efforts, and it will take a concerted effort by scientists, pharmaceutical companies, government and society to bring about the reality of ending Alzheimer’s disease. Only by recognising and confronting all of the obstacles impeding development of Alzheimer’s therapies can we be confident that our battle will be successful.

    As a physician-scientist and director of the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute who began studying Alzheimer’s disease in medical school in the late 1980s, I appreciate the scope of the scientific advances we have collectively made. I have also come to the sobering realisation that translating these advances into real therapies that will make a difference for patients suffering from this devastating disease is an incredibly complex issue which is not all about the science.