Last summer, a promising trial of a new antibody treatment was shown to totally stop cognitive decline in four Alzheimer's patients over the course of three years, giving researchers hope that the disease could be slowed or even cured. This year, it was expanded into a double blind placebo test and administered to nearly 100 times more Alzheimer's patients. It proved ineffective. Goddammit.
The failed study was announced yesterday by Baxter, and did not show any difference between placebo patients and those given the drug. It follows two other studies—and huge disappointments—from last year that tried and failed to attack amyloid protein (amyloid plaques and tau protein both need to be present in the brain for a positive diagnosis).
An estimated 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's—35 million worldwide—and it's the sixth leading cause of death in the nation. Of course, we don't fear Alzheimer's as a particularly cruel disease because of its death count, but because of its tragic effect on the living. It's maybe the most heartbreaking affliction we have. Active Alzheimer's cases are only expected to rise with the aging population, as the risk of Alzheimer's doubles every five years after the age of 65, and the US's 65-and-older population will itself double to 88.5 million between 2010 and 2050. We need to figure something out, soon.
Despite the recent disappointing results, there are some other promising studies out there, too. Simply getting enough sleep might reap benefits down the road, or taking a pill to chemically enlargen a part of your brain that shrinks in patients with dementia or clinical depression could help. Pacemaker-like implants have even been looked at, and are promising. But we still don't know what's going wrong in these studies.