Dennis J. Selkoe, MD, Co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, discusses progress in the development of Alzheimer’s disease treatments that target the amyloid beta protein.
Alzheimer's disease is a very complex disorder of the thinking part of the brain. Alzheimer disease symptoms include a gradual loss of memory and other aspects of cognitive function over the course of five to twenty years. Alzheimer disease symptoms seem to be due to the buildup of a protein in the brain referred to as the amyloid protein, or amyloid beta protein.
Long before a person exhibits Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, he or she will build up plaques in the brain composed of the amyloid protein. Shortly after the development of plaques, tangles also will build up in the brain. Tangles are made up of the tau protein. The plaques and tangles together mount up over decades and lead to a short circuiting of nerve cells in the brain and the characteristic Alzheimer disease symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline.
In 1992, Dr. Selkoe and colleagues at Brigham Women's Hospital discovered that the amyloid beta protein is made by everyone throughout life, raising the question of why everyone doesn’t get Alzheimer’s disease. Further research by Dr. Selkoe and colleagues determined that genetic risk factors and environmental factors can contribute to the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain.
Currently, several companies are developing treatments that use antibodies to lower levels of amyloid protein in the brain. Promising clinical trials of these antibodies suggest that an anti-amyloid treatment may be available to patients within a few years.
The Anti-Amyloid in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s (A4) trial, is the first prevention trial for Alzheimer’s disease. The A4 trial, led by Reisa Sperling, MD at BWH, is currently enrolling patients in the US, Australia and Canada to evaluate whether an anti-amyloid agent can prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease in patients who show evidence of amyloid on a PET scan but who are not experiencing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, treatment, research and clinical trials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Read the Amyloid Beta and Alzheimer’s Disease Research Updates video transcript.