Last week Pfizer announced they’re shuttering their neuroscience discovery unit, which dedicates resources to the discovery and development of drugs for both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. While the practical and macro implications of the drug giant’s decision may be minimal—don’t forget, more than 99% of these drugs fail before they get to market—seeing a leader “give up” the search will take the wind out of some sails. Especially for patients and advocacy groups. Pfizer appears to be setting itself up for a “buy” rather than “build” strategy, as they are starting a “neuroscience venture fund,” presumably to snatch up products discovered by the many start-ups who will continue to dig for neuroscience gold.
It turns out “do what makes your heart happy” is not just a self-help cliché. Scientists recently identified another reason to take good care of one’s heart: a link between vascular health and Alzheimer’s Disease. A plasma component named Factor XII, usually involved in blood clotting and inflammation, may play a part in Alzheimer’s Disease for some patients. Reducing Factor XII in mice with AD showed less brain inflammation and better memory function than untreated AD mice. It is still unclear how changes in one’s blood might catalyze the disease, but the discovery corroborates previous findings that people with compromised vascular systems are at increased risk for AD. Need some motivation? Here are 28 ways to show your heart love.
May be a real possibility… however, you may learn something you don’t want to know. Scientists have developed a new test based on 31 genetic markers that could be used to calculate yearly onset risk for Alzheimer’s. Patients who scored in the highest 10% on the test were three times as likely to develop the disease and did so a decade before patients who scored in the lowest 10%. The test was developed using genetic data from over 70,000 patients with Alzheimer’s as well as healthy elderly people. While it is known that genetics plays a large role in the development of the disease, knowing when someone could be at risk may help identify patients for trials to learn more about it moving forward.
While still a long way from the finish line, gene therapy looks promising for blocking the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Imperial College London injected lentivirus, which contains the PGC-1-alpha gene, into the hippocampus and the cortex of mice susceptible to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Compared to a control group of similarly susceptible mice, the treated group showed little development of amyloid plaques. Not to get too technical here but amyloid plaque is stuff believed to lead to bad things. Like strokes in golf, you want fewer of them. Treated mice also showed no loss of brain cells in the hippocampus and normal performance on memory tasks. All together now… Sci-ence!, Sci-ence!, Sci-ence! Well done, smart people.
Resveratrol, a naturally-occurring phenol produced by some plants, such as grapes, blueberries, and cocoa, has been on scientists’ radar for some time due to its potential therapeutic value. The molecule has been studied for its impact on cancers and cardiovascular health, as well as antidiabetic and anti-aging effects, in part because of resveratrol’s impact on inflammation. In many therapeutic areas, results in human trials are still pending. However, recent studies of Alzheimer’s patients have shown that individuals who took resveratrol had levels of amyloid-beta40 that remained stable whereas the placebo group’s levels dropped. Unlikely to be a treatment on its own, resveratrol is helping to guide additional research. Now, pour yourself a glass of wine and have some chocolate—for your brain’s sake.