Contributor: Dennis Selkoe MD, Co-Director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and the Vincent and Stella Coates Professor of Neurologic Diseases in the Department of Neurology at Harvard Medical School.
Long before a person begins to exhibit Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, he or she will build up plaques in the brain composed of the amyloid beta protein. Shortly after the initial development of plaques, tangles, made up of the tau protein, also will build up in the brain. The plaques and tangles together mount up over decades, leading to a short-circuiting of nerve cells in the brain and the characteristic Alzheimer’s disease symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline.
Studying the Role of Amyloid Beta Protein
Since the 1980s, Dr. Selkoe and his colleagues have been gathering data to support the Amyloid Hypothesis, in which he proposed that Alzheimer’s disease begins with the build-up of amyloid beta protein in “thinking regions” of the brain.
In 1992, Dr. Selkoe and colleagues made a surprising discovery – the amyloid beta protein is made by everyone throughout life. This discovery raised the question – why doesn’t everyone get Alzheimer’s disease? BWH researchers found that certain genetic and environmental factors can make some people susceptible to greater amyloid buildup and the subsequent development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Currently, several pharmaceutical companies are developing treatments which use antibodies that target amyloid beta protein in the brain. Promising clinical trial results of these antibodies suggest that an anti-amyloid treatment for Alzheimer’s disease may be available to patients within a few years.Researchers also are studying whether earlier treatment with anti-amyloid antibodies and other agents may help slow or even halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease before patients become symptomatic.
Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Prevented?
The Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s (A4) Study is the first prevention trial for Alzheimer’s disease. The A4 Study, created and led by Reisa Sperling, MD, Director of the BWH Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment (CART), is currently enrolling patients at many sites in the U.S., Australia, and Canada. These still cognitively normal subjects at risk for AD will be followed over years to see whether an anti-amyloid antibody can prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease in patients who show evidence of amyloid beta protein in their brains on a PET scan, but who are not yet experiencing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
In the following video, Dr. Selkoe describes progress on research to develop and characterize treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that target the amyloid beta protein:
- The Alzheimer Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases
- Video: Early Detection and Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Video: Cognition and Healthy Brain Aging