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Issue 40 Alzheimer’s Insights by Curation Health 16 June 2015
While it may not be often that readers have come across the words gratitude and lymphatic system occurring in the same sentence, it appears that science has been hard at work on both these phenomena over recent weeks. And with any luck, we should be hearing a lot more of them over the coming months.
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Lifestyle Issues
Science supports importance of gratitude
It might seem absurd to suppose that the feeling of gratitude could have any place in the world of Alzheimer’s. Whether you have been diagnosed with the disease, or are caring for someone who has, it is all too easy to surrender to its negative opposites. More research is emerging, however, to suggest that gratitude is the prince among positive emotions, and cultivating it confers extensive and measurable benefits.

An article on The Washington Post website provides something of a gateway to the surprisingly extensive scientific literature on this subject, initially to another review in the same publication pointing out six ways in which “gratitude can change your life”. The benefits of encouraging a “more positive orientation” – i.e. feeling better about your life – include more extensive and warmer social networks, higher degrees of motivation that in turn increase productivity, and better impulse control – meaning that you spend less money and thus have more of it for things that matter more.

For those of a more analytic disposition, readers of the piece are pointed to a scholarly article on the link between gratitude and well-being, published in Clinical Psychology Review. In a similar vein, scientists at the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University have produced a research paper showing that levels of oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a behaviour modulator in the brain, are boosted as a result of thinking and feeling positively about our lives and relationships.

Further evidence of the empirical relationship between feelings of gratitude and enhancement of wellbeing can be found on the online journal Psychiatry. Although the quoted research is five years old, it is still cited frequently in current reflections on the therapeutic benefits of gratitude, as here on the website, in which their dementia expert writes specifically about how best to use gratitude to cope with the challenges of Alzheimer’s.

The article is not in the least about sugar-coating, still less minimising the stresses that come naturally when anyone is living with Alzheimer’s. But as with any other commentary on lifestyle, from the benefits of healthy eating and regular exercise, through to maintaining good sleep habits: the therapeutic point to living positively is that it applies to everyone, whether they are living with chronic illness or not.

Much of it comes down to comparative analysis. How have we fared in dealing with earlier difficulties in life? Are there other people who are worse off? Most important: how much worse off would we be if we traded in our good spirits and gratitude for bitterness and resentment? In the words of the wise man: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
Sharpen the wits with exercise
A lifestyle feature published in Australia earlier this week makes two important points about the value of exercise. We hear a lot about physical activity as the secret weapon in the lifestyle war on chronic disease, but it appears from new research that mental alertness, cognitive function and even brain size are all improved by exercise, particularly if it is of moderate intensity – enough to get you slightly out of breath.

And second: the benefits are not limited to healthy young people but apply to children and to older people too. At a stage in life when cognitive function can decline, it must be useful to know that exercise increases the number of brain cells and enhances the connections between them by increasing production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

For neuroscientist Dr Wendy Suzuki, who led the research team at New York University, the benefit was most appreciated in terms of the difference it made to her life: she found that on the days she did aerobic exercise, her thoughts were clearer, concentration was better and she found she worked very much more quickly.

The article concludes with a reference to the Alzheimer’s Australia website, and a section called Physical Activity for Brain Health and Fighting Dementia. It makes clear that exercise is as significant for people following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s as it would have been earlier in life. A PDF of this section is available here.

Alzheimer's Lifestyle Issues
Drugs & Clinical Trials
Fears of a bubble blow up on Axovant
Amidst all the stories of new hope, new treatments and significant new interest in the dementia investment landscape, one story this past week seemed so big, so startling as to seem almost too good to be true – and it inspired a number of blog postings by industry experts warning of the perils of venture valuations simply getting too high.

As reported on MarketWatch, the Initial Public Offering of a biotech company called Axovant AXON was remarkable for the straightforward bare bones of the story: a company with but the one product, no revenues or market experience, and backing science so lukewarm that the treatment had been sold to Axovant by its creator, GlaxoSmithKline PLC for $5 million, albeit with considerations against future success – and the capitalization achieved at IPO earlier this month was, err… $2.9 billion.

There was commentary also on the fact that the IPO was led by a young hedge fund trader but the bigger concern expressed by many was/is that the definition of market bubbles has much to do with the subversion of expertise, evidence and logic to the brute power conferred by access to money. There is a lot riding on the absolute necessity of more smart investment into Alzheimer’s research, and everyone needs to be a bit nervous that this much money can be raised in this way by someone who was only sixteen years old at the time of the dotcom bubble’s burst.

Drugs & Clinical Trials
Care Advice
Helpful tips on trials for patients and for caregivers
In the war on any chronic illness it is tempting for anyone involved to want to do their bit, whether to find out more about a specific illness or to feel positively engaged and thus contribute actively to an outcome that will benefit everyone. This can be especially true in Alzheimer’s, where the landscape still offers no cure as yet, and little in the way of treatments.

A Florida-based psychiatrist with extensive experience of running clinical trial programmes has published a useful article on the Alzheimer’s Speaks website, providing an overview of the trials landscape and offering useful tips for caregivers in particular. His site links to a registry of publicly and privately supported clinical studies involving human participants around the world. A site that offers similar advice for patients and for caregivers, but within a UK-oriented context, is provided by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Alzheimer's Care Advice
Medical Information
Is the lymphatic system a missing link?
Occasionally a story comes along that is so big that the CurationHealth content feeds are jammed with references to the story in almost every major news channel, offline and online, around the world. Early blood tests for detecting Alzheimer’s and this past spring’s Biogen story were two such. Then, much less often, a story emerges that inspires very little attention but is clearly of massive significance – IF the claims it makes hold up. One such story emerged on 1 June with an article reporting that researchers had found the missing link between the brain and the immune system.

This story did not appear on some clickbait whizzbang website featuring a doctor nobody’s heard of working at some Podunk University. The study reported on Neuroscience News described how “researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.”

The story is fascinating both for how they did it, and for how it is that the extension of the lymphatic system into the brain has been missed all this time. But of course the fire in the belly of this story is in the implications for the study of mental illness and how our environment shapes cognition.

In the case of Alzheimer’s in particular, further study will now be required into why and how it is that an immunological presence in the brain can break down, or operate less effectively, in clearing accumulated and harmful protein; and what can be done with immunotherapies to reverse such decline.

To add to the excitement, and to show that this discovery is not some isolated one-off, a more recent study published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine and reported online at ScienceDaily reported on research at The University of Helsinki in discovering lymphatic vessels in the brain and in the eye.

To which only one concluding thought will do: just watch this space!
Spotting Alzheimer’s 20 years early
Adding to the excitement in the research world this past week was a report emerging from something called the Exponential Finance conference held in New York City and described on several news channels, including here on the CNN Money website. In addition to summarising advances in blood bio-markers and new diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s through imaging of eyes and brains, mention was made of hand-held ultrasound devices and the applications of Big Data-crunching initiatives and the growing significance of Artificial Intelligence in coming to grips with the growing mountain of knowledge we are accumulating about health, about illness, and the means at our disposal for discovering new cures and treatments.

Most of the “news” contained in this feature is not really news – and indeed much of it has featured before now in the mainstream press and online here on this website. What makes this story interesting is the consolidation of all these hopeful innovations within the context of a conference on Exponential Finance. The investment world is stirring at what is happening in health, in diagnostics, biotech, robots and digital technologies, and in Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. So readers of Alzheimer’s Insights are encouraged to watch this space too!

Latest Alzheimer's Medical Info
And Finally…
Interested participants are sought for a new five-year study into the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, based in Michigan USA but taking place across 50 locations around the world. The purpose is to start with people who have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s, and see if a drug currently used to help control blood sugar in type 2 diabetes can show benefits in preventing or slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s. Anyone with an interest in the Tomorrow Study can access their website here.
More Alzheimer’s Disease Feeds on CurationHealth
Depression, Stress & Coping with Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s Care Advice
Alzheimer’s Lifestyle Issues
Latest Alzheimer’s Medical Info
Drugs & Clinical Trials
Medical Devices & Alzheimer’s
Tweets of the week twitter logo
23aloha (@23aloha)
@Sport234a First w an effective Alzheimer’s drug will have prob a greater oppty than Lipitor's early years. Everyone touched by this dz.
Emory Redd (@Emory_R)
Inside the Hedge Fund Club Pitching a New Alzheimer’s Drug IPO $AXON
Ethan O. Perlstein (@eperlste)
Elli Kaplan, CEO of Alzheimer’s behavioral biomarker diagnostic startup @Neurotrack, discusses the Silver Tsunami…
Ward Health (@wardhealth)
Being a long-term #caregiver for a person w #dementia has a significant impact on mental & physical health @AlzDisInt
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About Alzheimer’s Insights
Alzheimer’s Insights is an online newsletter created for consumers -- primarily patients and carers -- who live with the challenge of Alzheimer’s disease. Based upon intelligent search algorithms that scour the Internet for the most read, relevant and useful stories from around the world, it is curated and published each Tuesday by a team of health and publishing experts.
Tam McDonald  
Tam McDonald Senior Curator
A publishing professional with three decades of experience in health, hospitality and financial services publishing. His interest in the human brain goes back to his university days of studying philosophy. His commitment to securing the very best information about health matters goes back to his decade as a carer.
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Looking ahead…
Issue 41 23 June 2015
Time for another of our periodic consolidations of the research landscape in the world of Alzheimer’s. New funds, new hope, massive valuations given to emerging initiatives, and a growing sense that more integrated planning will go a long way: next week in INSIGHTS.
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