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Issue 97 Alzheimer’s Insights by Curation Health 19 July 2016
It can’t be just the big Alzheimer’s conference in Toronto later this month that is inspiring the growing number of good news stories. More than just the research developments, the new thinking on prevention, the growing interest in collaboration and the employment of Big Data analytics: it is the way all these stories are co-ordinating that suggests that the world of Alzheimer’s research is truly getting its act together – with the accent on the word together.
Most read stories this week
Advice on taking care of a parent with Alzheimer’s
Dementia vaccine may be just years away, Aussie scientists
US boost for dementia app developer
Pat Summitt's fight against Alzheimer's disease continues
Alzheimer’s gene already shrinking brain by age of three
Medical Information
Research initiative launches in improving climate
Every week sees more sense and greater potential emerging from the world of Alzheimer’s research, as if all the positive factors are lining up to make a bigger impact. This last week saw the announcement of a new research consortium in the Boston area involving academic researchers collaborating with Big Pharma; just a few days before a Harris Poll revealing that nearly 60% of Americans would participate, or consider participating, in an Alzheimer’s clinical trial; and just a few days after a report out of the Montreal Neurological Institute claimed an improved understanding of late onset Alzheimer’s arising from a massive data analysis of brain images involving more than 1,000 people.

The Boston story appeared, appropriately, in the Boston Globe. What is described as a “pre-competitive collaboration” will involve sharing early-stage research with initial developments licensed to more than one company to commercialise. Titled the Massachusetts Center for Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Science, the “MassCATS” project is launching with a funding pool of $1.25M, contributed equally by each of the five pharma partners: Biogen, AbbVie, Janssen, Merck and Sunovion.

It will be heartening for the MassCATS collaborators, and similar alliances around the world, that the world of clinical trials is at last being viewed more positively by the people who might participate in them. As the PharmPro website observes in reporting on the Harris poll, however, there is still work to do. While a majority of Americans are now ready to participate in a trial, the numbers of people who at present are participating in these trials is considerable lower.

While raising the rates of trial participation will remain challenging, the research industry will find it easier to engage effectively with the powers of “Big Data” in understanding the disease process, how it can be spotted earlier, and how we can measure the effectiveness of new treatments in increasingly discrete patient populations. In a story entitled “Big Data study discovers earliest sign of Alzheimer’s development”, MedicalXpress reports that the Montreal research team used both MRI and PET scans, combined with analysis of blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and results from participants’ cognitive exercise tests, to determine that it is a decrease in blood flow to the brain that is in fact the first physiological sign of the disease process.
Study to examine racial risk disparities
American insurance giant Kaiser Permanente is teaming up with the University of California at Davis to review half a century’s worth of health data to get a better understanding of the risk factors associated with dementia, according to a report on the Forbes website. As a majority of such health data down the years has focused upon middle-class, generally white, generally better-educated people – that is, people most likely to sign up to Kaiser Permanente insurance schemes – the five-year, $13M study project will work especially hard to enrol equal numbers of participants from all major ethnic groups.

Dubbed the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experience study, the Kaiser initiative acquired additional significance with the story above concerning the Harris Poll. This showed that, in addition to the disparity among the wider population between the willingness to participate in a clinical trial and actually doing so, this gap was if anything wider among the African American community, who are now understood to be affected disproportionately by dementia.
Genetic effects can hit in childhood
Received wisdom on the APOE-4 gene sees it as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s -- which in most cases manifests itself later in life. Even with what we are learning about early onset Alzheimer’s, which afflicts some 5% of the population with people being diagnosed as early as their thirties, it has not been thought that children could be directly implicated in the disease. Until now.

One of the more widely carried stories of last week, as here in the Los Angeles Times, reports on the work of a research team at the University of Hawaii and published in the journal Neurology. It appears that young children carrying the genetic susceptibility to Alzheimer’s showed slower rates of cognitive development and lower scores on memory and attention tests. In effect, the suggestion is that a disease traditionally associated with older age is at least for some people a developmental condition, with the risk of affecting their early education.

Latest Alzheimer's Medical Info
Lifestyle Issues
Obesity story is a brain wake-up call
Occasionally a story comes along in which the headline and sub-headline really hit the nail on the head: the Independent managed one of these last week with “Obesity may be a brain disease made worse by a Western diet high in sugar and fat – Unhealthy eating habits appear to hamper the brain’s ability to forget about the need for food when you are full.” Not surprisingly, the research behind the story reveals that, not only does junk food cause you to forget to stop eating: it appears to impair your memory for everything else too. Subjects participating in the Australian research but in the unhealthy food half of the survey cohort turned out to be slower learners and quicker forgetters than those who had been eating more healthy food.

Alzheimer's Lifestyle Issues
Care Advice
Research underscores need for best information
Research published just yesterday by, and reported widely in all media including here on the International Business Times website, underlines the growing significance of Alzheimer’s as fully one third of 3,300 respondents cite the disease as the health condition that worries them most, far more than cancer, heart disease, chronic pain or diabetes. The aim of the website, run by the American Grandparents Association, “is to supply loved ones and caregivers with the best information and resources possible.”

Among the concerns highlighted on a weekly basis in the thousands of stories that come through the Curation Health content feeds, the key topics of interest (in no particular order) appear to be the search for cures and disease-modifying treatments; guidelines on symptoms and how to secure an early diagnosis; what to do following a diagnosis; how to prevent diagnosis but, when there has been a diagnosis, how to maintain optimal quality of life for as long as possible; and tips on meeting the many challenges of caregiving.

As if to underline the growing sensitivity to those caregiving challenges, there were two fine examples from two of our more popular sources just in the last week: “The 10 Commandments of Caregiving” featured on Bob DeMarco’s Alzheimer’s Reading Room; while the Huffington Post published its “Do’s and Don’ts for Communicating with Individuals Living with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer's Care Advice
Medical Devices
MindMate app beats odds of 100:1
A young technology company based in Glasgow has surmounted formidable odds in bringing its suite of dementia apps to the notice of one of the world’s premier specialist accelerator programmes. MindMate has been going for little more than a year but, as this story on the BBC website explains, they have created a suite of attractive and effective apps designed to support people with dementia, their families and caregivers through all the stages of dementia. Along the way they have acquired 20,000 active users, partnered with every relevant dementia society in the UK, and achieved the considerable industry recognition of enrolment on New York-based start-up accelerator Techstar – one of only fifteen early-stage companies so selected from among 1,500 applicants. Readers can get a strong sense of how they have accomplished all this by visiting the MindMate website.
Products designed with dementia in mind
One of the more refreshing and recent developments in the world of dementia is the extent to which the market is moving to meet the needs of people with dementia, and that of their caregivers – rather than expecting those people to make do with whatever the market has on the shelf anyway. And it’s not just the market for products, although we see first-class products emerging through stories like the MindMate triumph, above; and in another recent success story we have been featuring over recent weeks, in London-based

What is also new is the combination of attitude and advocacy – possibly driven by an emerging assertiveness encouraged by social media, and of course the flowering into their bolshie sunset years of mankind’s most assertive generation yet, among whom I am one: the Baby Boomers who “will not go gentle into that good night”, nor indeed the morning or any time else either, thank you very much.

We see more assertiveness in the public pronouncements, along with better promotion of products and services that are worthier of the “silver surfer” age group, from the relevant charities: the Alzheimer’s Society of course, but also Age UK in Britain, and the Alliance for Aging Research in the USA.

Look too at the dedication to relevant causes, such as was highlighted last week in The Guardian, demanding that the world must stop ignoring “Habitat III”, the global housing conference. With its particular attention to the dementia community, Habitat III is an event that needs more attention in the mainstream media, although the specialist media online is making a pretty eloquent job of it. Check out the “Help Age blogs” on the Help Age International website: especially one entitled “10 ways Habitat III can protect and promote our rights in older age”; and for attitude with the full bells and whistles: “This Chair Rocks: Ashton Applewhite and the revolution against ageism”.

Medical Devices & Alzheimer's
Drugs & Clinical Trials
FDA fast track for Lundbeck’s idalopirdine
A fast-track designation has been granted by the American Food and Drug Administration for an investigational treatment designed for use by people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Idalopirdine is a co-production of pharma giants Lundbeck (Danish) and Otsuka (Japan) and offers something of an alternative to the majority of treatments designed to tackle protein deposits in the brain, being focused instead on modulating the balance between excitation and inhibition in the brain. As an article in Pharmacy Times explains, being on the “fast track” means essentially that there will be more, and more frequent, interactions between the clinical developers and the FDA review team.

Drugs & Clinical Trials
And Finally…
Every sporting or entertainment legend that speaks up or does something remarkable for the world of medical research is doubly blessed. Whether they are publicly fighting back, as with basketball coach Pat Summit (INSIGHTS 95), or pledging to donate their brain in the cause of dementia research, as with this week’s story on USA Today about NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen, they not only raise the profile of the cause in key areas of the wider community, but they validate the experience of those who are living with the disease. Alzheimer’s emerges from the shadows as fans associate its challenges with the life experiences of those they have admired. One does not have to be a devotee of motor racing to see how Fred Lorenzen acquired his legendary status.
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Tweets of the week twitter logo
Cambridge University (@Cambridge_Uni)
Slow, slow, quick quick, slow: Scientists discover how proteins in the brain build-up rapidly in #Alzheimers disease
Ian Kremer (@LEAD_Coalition)
Tip sheet from @CaregiverAlly on how to communicate more effectively with a person who has #Alzheimers/#dementia:
Alex Andreou (@sturdyAlex)
My caring breakthrough: #Alzheimers prevents Mum from forming new memories, but NOT new habits. With patience and repetition, she can learn.
DementiaToday (@DementiaToday)
New Alzheimers Australia Website Helps Children Close to Someone with Dementia #EndAlz, #caregiving
Nautilus (@NautilusMag)
"I am fearful of the day when I put my hands on they keyboard and don't know what to do." #Alzheimers up close:
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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
Tam is a communications professional with three decades of experience in health, hospitality, and financial services publishing. His interest in the human brain goes back to his studies in philosophy at university. His commitment to securing the best information about health matters goes back to his decade as a carer. In addition to his work with Alzheimer’s, Tam is engaged in online publishing projects relating to health innovation and investment, human and artificial intelligence, and diabetes.
Explain This!
On the one hand, people with dementia can lose interest in eating, leading to weight complications and possible infections. On the other hand, they are also less interested in long explanations for why they should do anything, including eating to keep their health up. How can anybody square this circle, and get them to eat?
Click here to find out
Looking ahead…
Issue 98 26 July 2016
What is the current state of brain science so far as keeping mentally fit is concerned? We look at the evidence for claims that a regular brain work-out can keep us sharp, and ask if this is no less true following a diagnosis of dementia.
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