Alzheimer's Requires Aggressive Funding — and Better Models

Alzheimer's Requires Aggressive Funding — and Better Models More than 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease (AD), the sixth leading cause of death among adults in the US. Aggressive research funding and improved animal models of Alzheimer's disease are urgent priorities.

Increasing Alzheimer's Research Funding

On July 19, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee approved an additional $400 million for Alzheimer's disease research in the fiscal year 2018 budget. $400 million was also approved for fiscal year 2017, and Alzheimer's disease and related dementia research funding at the NIH is now $1.4 billion.

Estimates suggest Alzheimer's disease cost Americans $259 billion in 2017; $175 billion of those costs are borne by Medicare and Medicaid1. Hence, the government's commitment to funding research. Without medical breakthroughs, the Alzheimer's Association estimates that by mid-century the number of people with the disease may triple, and the costs of AD are projected to more than quadruple to $1.1 trillion1.

AD is a progressive disease of the brain and many researchers believe there is a step-by-step process through which it develops:

  1. Amyloid beta, a naturally-occurring protein, builds to unhealthy levels.
  2. The amyloid beta forms plaques, which in turn lead to tangles of a protein called tau inside nerve cells, killing them.
  3. This triggers inflammation, a natural infection-fighting response, which makes things worse.
Many researchers believe drugs which target beta-amyloid may help slow or halt the progress of the disease, though there is much debate as to whether clearing amyloid from the brain can actually cure the disease.

There are currently no treatments for the disease, only medication that may temporarily slow the symptoms.

The Harvard Aging Brain Study, a National Institute on Aging-backed project, has shown that amyloid beta accumulates in the brain a decade or more before symptoms occur. This finding indicates early detection and treatment may be effective, giving new hope to researchers struggling to move beyond high-profile failures in clinical drug trials. In February, just three months after Eli Lilly & Co. announced a trial failure, drug maker Merck & Co. halted a study2. However, other studies show the protein is still central to new research.

Improved Models of Alzheimer's Disease

As researchers gain greater understanding of AD, there's a growing sense that effective treatments will need to target multiple factors, including genetics, immune system, and lifestyle, and that early intervention may be the key to successful treatment.

Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, but lifestyle factors and diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes create much higher risk. Some researchers considered them as much of a risk as genetic predisposition2. Inflammation — either caused by the immune system's reaction to nerves dying in the brain or other illnesses a patient may have — could also contribute to the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Though inflammation has usually been considered a side effect of Alzheimer's, rather than a cause, new research suggests that it may happen early in the process of memory and cognition loss and perhaps actually accelerates the disease. Researchers are exploring whether treating patients' inflammation could help Alzheimer's as well.

With such a range of potential aggregating factors, more translatable preclinical platforms will be critical to the prevention and effective treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Taconic Biosciences offers a variety of animal models of Alzheimer's disease which develop plaques, tangles, inflammation, and other risk factors relevant to the pathogenesis of AD.

Taconic Mouse ModelsFor more information on Taconic's transgenic mouse models:
1. Alzheimer's Association.
2. Alvin Powell, Plotting the Demise of Alzheimer's, Harvard Gazette. April 4, 2017.

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