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Issue 100 Alzheimer’s Insights by Curation Health 26 July 2016
INSIGHTS hits its century today and, in taking our usual look back at the week’s top headlines, we reflect where it is relevant on how the world of Alzheimer’s has changed since we launched almost two years ago. And before kicking back for a summer break of our own, we offer some thoughts on where the big ideas are going to come from over the next couple of years.
Most read stories this week
How to Accelerate the Search for Alzheimer's Drugs
Acupuncture may stop memory loss that precedes dementia
Arthritis Drug May Have Benefits Against Alzheimer’s
Dementia Dims a Father’s Brilliance in a Novel of Mysteries
An Alzheimer's Doctor Reveals His Most Powerful Technology
Three Trends In Alzheimer's Research Provide Reason For Hope
Drugs & Clinical Trials
We need to move our research more quickly
An article that appeared last week on the Forbes Pharma & Healthcare website started off with an excellent paragraph in describing today’s state of play in the world of Alzheimer’s research. In essence, there is far more credible hope around these days, but also a keener awareness that the challenges we face are far greater than were previously imagined.

The science is trickier, the clinical trial requirements are no less demanding, the rewards are more problematic, and the costs associated with not curing this disease are blowing sky-high. While focusing primarily on the costs associated with getting new drugs to market, the author offers a key recommendation about extending patent life so that there is proportionately more reward to balance the obviously higher risks. But far, far more needs to be done than worry about how pharma companies can be better incentivised to ramp up their research efforts.

Since THE LANCET Neurology published its special feature on defeating Alzheimer’s in the spring, inspiring our own special INSIGHTS supplement on a potential communications solution, it is clear from the subsequent news feeds that the relevant professionals – scientists, politicians, health professionals – are still talking among themselves at conferences. The wider public is still awaiting a sign, however, that a wider public engagement with these problems is likely to emerge any time soon.

The battle to raise awareness cannot be left to the relevant charities, excellent as their work continues to be. Over the course of the 100 issues of INSIGHTS, we could Google “public awareness of Alzheimer’s” any time and turn up hundreds of thousands of references to sponsored walks and bike rides, knitting bees and cake-baking sales, celebrity interviews and public policy pronouncements.

What is rare to vanishing point is a collaborative understanding of how effective communications drive community engagement which articulates what it means to change the culture on a key challenge like Alzheimer’s: eliminating stigma, fear and ignorance; increasing public participation in active research and clinical trials; and maximising a return on investment – everybody’s investment, not just pharma’s – in beating this disease.
A quick round-up from the front line
Perhaps the most widely reported story of the past ten days was inspired by a research team at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, who discovered that a drug called etanercept and used to treat rheumatoid arthritis may offer benefits in combatting Alzheimer’s. As reported in this blog on the New York Times website, the study is at far too early a stage to conclude anything significant, but it is interesting as yet another example of the science moving beyond the usual world of brain proteins and into a closer understanding of inflammation and the workings of the human immune system.

Other stories include a report on the Reuters website about pharma company Allergan’s efforts to keep its share price up in the light of recent investor concerns that the company is doing more organisational re-jigging than it is actual science; against which story the news from two universities in the UK and in New Zealand, as reported on the MedicalXpress website is something of a burst of fresh air. Two separate funding grants to a team drawn from the universities in Liverpool and Wellington will support their continuing work with complex sugars called heparan sulfates to control the degeneration of brain proteins that cause memory loss.

And faithful readers who have been scouring INSIGHTS for insight into what contributions Chinese medicine might make in the treatment of Alzheimer’s are rewarded at last – not with the story below about acupuncture, which has provoked more than a little scepticism – but with a story in the journal Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology, published in the Wiley Online Library. It discusses the “potential therapeutic action of natural products from traditional Chinese medicine on Alzheimer’s disease animal models targeting neurotrophic factors” proving, if nothing else, that there is no story so remote that INSIGHTS cannot find it.

Drugs & Clinical Trials
Care Advice
Three research trends: one of them is prevention
One fascinating aspect of a feature on the Huffington Post website is that the writer’s three key takeaways from last month’s conference in Toronto lead off on developments in preventing Alzheimer’s. The other two are the pipeline of new drugs with which we hope to cure or modify treatments of the disease, and he concludes with advances in brain scanning and software, as described below in this week’s big story out of Japan. But it’s this focus on prevention that reflects one of the biggest trends in the stories we have registered in INSIGHTS over the past two years. Whether it’s brain training, diet, exercise, sleep “hygiene”, more music, a better social life: it’s the prevention or forestalling of the disease that is a winning strategy for optimising quality of life and minimising costs.
Caregiver resources: feeling the burnout
Almost inevitably, given the scale and the cost of Alzheimer’s all over the world, what has become a major concern for national economies as much as for local communities everywhere over the last couple of years has been the toll that the disease has taken on caregivers. The concept of “caregiver burnout” has become as much of a headache for politicians as it is “a thing” for social commentators. INSIGHTS has reflected the growing tide of stories about innovations and advocacy on behalf of caregivers everywhere, and this week’s biggest story – research being carried out in Indiana and ironically carried at news outlets all over India, as here on the website – is only the tip of the iceberg.

But it will take a lot more than a new app for caregivers to address the informational, economic, social and emotional challenges they face, and for the foreseeable future they will have to continue to rely very largely on each other, and their stories, for support. Representative stories from the last week include these two blogspots from the New York Times and The Huffington Post.

Alzheimer's Care Advice
Medical Devices
Japanese scanning links with AI software
A pair of Japanese stories underlines the growing significance of that country as a hotbed of research in the area of brain scanning technology. A story on the Science Daily website describes advances in PET brain scanning images of adult neurogenesis – the proliferation of new neurons – in a section of the brain that is particularly affected by depression.

And a story on the HotHardware website – an INSIGHTS first for that publication – is one of many outings for another triumph by IBM Watson’s powerful Watson AI computer. This artificial intelligence software was let loose on 20 million genetic records and, by spotting patterns well beyond what mere humans could discern, was able to detect leukaemia in a patient who was then, thanks to an early diagnosis, enabled to receive treatment that proved successful. The potential for pattern recognitions and distinctions is obvious in the reading of brain scans, all the more so as advances in neuroscience enable better understanding of what is happening, and what should not be happening, in our brains.
Doctor’s most powerful technology: a question
A thoughtful blog on the Forbes website makes two very interesting distinctions. In contrasting the high-tech environments of his cardiology and oncology colleagues with the relatively tech-free environment of his memory clinic, he describes the technology at his disposal as the “tools” that enable him to treat the brains of his patients, which he does by using a simple question in effectively engaging with their mind. Interesting, this: high-tech, low-tech; brain, mind. The question that he asks his patients and their caregivers is: “What’s a typical day?” Recounting how these conversations play out makes for an interesting read.

Medical Devices & Alzheimer's
Medical Information
Acupuncture may, but may not, help…
In what was possibly the most widely reported news of the week, as here on The Telegraph website, researchers in China are reporting success in the use of acupuncture to improve “memory loss that precedes the development of dementia”. Even within the context of the Telegraph story there is a fair amount of fodder for any reader’s understandable “hang on a moment” response, including the revelation that their “meta-analysis suggests that…” rather than that their “analysis proves that”. It turns out that the study in question is a review of earlier studies, and the NHS Choices website followed up pretty smartly in debunking the story, providing along the way a useful primer in reading the sort of treatment that stories like this too often receive in newspapers like The Telegraph and the Daily Mail.
Checklist proposed for “Mild Cognitive Impairment”
Reflecting the growing awareness of the epidemiology of Alzheimer’s – a disease that evolves over a longer period of time than was originally thought, and then presents in a far more complex way – a team of researchers from the University of Calgary have proposed a distinct and new category of neurodegeneration, to be known as Mild Cognitive Impairment. As this feature on the Healio website explains, their proposed diagnostic checklist would assist in earlier diagnosis of the disease itself, with all the benefits that brings in terms of early management and the subsequent optimising of quality of life following diagnosis. The checklist, designed for a slightly younger audience than is normally involved in such pre-diagnostic exercises, focuses upon five distinct domains: apathy, drive and motivation; mood, affect and anxiety; impulse, control, agitation and reward; social appropriateness; and thoughts and perception.

Latest Alzheimer's Medical Info
Depression, Stress & Coping
Tips on unmasking depression: it matters
An extended and thoughtful feature on The Huffington Post website distinguishes between depression and what it terms “perfectly hidden depression”. The first might be seen as the garden variety, deepening sadness that most people understand when they click on this sort of link to test themselves. The second group are pretty good at masking the depression, appearing content while “bearing up” – and these people make great caregivers. Such perfection is hard to sustain, and usually comes at a cost. This article is worth reading if only to appreciate what those costs can be.

Depression, Stress & Coping with Alzheimer's
Lifestyle Issues
Exercise may even affect brain size
It’s not new news that exercise is good for our brains, but recent research out of the University of California at Los Angeles suggests that it may also be good for brain size as well – specifically for the hippocampus, that part of the brain associated with short-term memory. Another interesting outcome of the research, as reported here on the Bioscience Technology website, is that the strongest protective effects against dementia were reported in those study participants aged 75 and older. It’s never too late.

Alzheimer's Lifestyle Issues
And Finally…
Scarcely a week goes by without there being news of another celebrity being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – the most recent example being one of the most widely carried stories of the week, as here from NBS Sports about American football legend Bill McCartney. But the splashiest story of the summer so far has involved celebrities getting their own back on the disease and raising awareness as well as funding for more research. Forbes Magazine was one of many publications giving space to a glitzy evening in the Hamptons, staged on behalf of the American Alzheimer’s Association and entitled the Rita Hayworth Gala Hamptons Kickoff, named for the Hollywood superstar of the 40s and 50s.
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
Dr Shibley Rahman (@dr_shibley)
User Involvement Board - Alzheimers Society… < good progress described here by @WendyPMitchell @mason4233
Ian Kremer (@LEAD_Coalition)
#Alzheimers disease and other causes of #dementia are hard enough. While working to #EndAlz, let's #EndStigma now.
Alzheimer's Assoc. (@alzassociation)
When planning activities for someone with #Alzheimers, try relating to past work life. Get tips here:
Mayo Clinic (@MayoClinic)
Q. How early can #Alzheimers be diagnosed? What are early symptoms? @RonPetersenMD replies.
Cleveland Clinic MD (@CleClinicMD)
fMRI study findings may lead to new treatments to delay #Alzheimers onset by 5 years
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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!
Is there a key to getting people with Alzheimer’s to do something they don’t want to do? This is an especially irksome challenge in the days before a diagnosis.
Click here to find out
Looking ahead…
Summer Break
As we say in our curator’s introduction to this landmark issue, INSIGHTS is stepping back for a summer’s break. Having published 100 issues, some from remote locations and all with a dedicated finger on the pulse of stories coming into our news feeds from all over the world, we are off to recharge our mental batteries, while taking this opportunity to wish all our readers a healthy and sunny August.
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