The stakes are high: 2.1 million people in France, and increasingly younger people, could develop Alzheimer’s disease by 2040. After decades of fruitless struggle, research is in full swing. It is slow down or even stop cognitive decline, including memory loss, and loss of autonomy.
Against cognitive decline: new drugs
At the origin of Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid proteins form plaques in the brain that are toxic to neurons and kill them little by little, leading to cognitive decline and loss of autonomy. New drugs (synthetic antibodies) target and destroy these famous beta-amyloid proteins by directing the individual’s own immune defenses against them. We are talking about immunotherapy. Two of these molecules (aducanumab and lecanemab) authorized in the United States are being studied in Europe. In July 2023, researchers revealed the positive results of a third molecule: donanemab. Aducanumab reduces cognitive decline by 27%. “These immunotherapies represent the greatest advances of the last 20 yearsestimates Dr Julien Lagarde (Memory and Language Neurology Department, Sainte-Anne Hospital, Paris). Their biological effect on amyloid plaques is indisputable.” Nearly 80% of patients on donanemab no longer had amyloid plaques after 18 months of treatment!
But there are limits: the price of the treatment (around 25,000 euros/year) and a risk of serious side effects (edema, cerebral hemorrhages). “These advances must be confirmed in the years to come and on a large scale, and demonstrate a very real clinical benefit for patients: in slowing the deterioration of cognitive faculties and autonomy.”adds Dr Marie-Claude Potier, co-leader of the team “Alzheimer’s disease & prion diseases” at the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (Paris).
Ideas against the destruction of brain neurons
Other targets are the subject of promising research, supported by the Foundation for Medical Research.
Glutamate is one of the main neurotransmitters in the brain, that is to say a messenger between nerve cells. In Alzheimer’s patients, it accumulates and becomes toxic. Miniature antibodies called “nanobodies” are being studied to target certain glutamate receptors located on neurons. They could modulate the functioning of neurons in order to limit cognitive decline.
Read also :
⋙ Alzheimer’s, cancers, cirrhosis: these new blood tests which improve early detection
⋙ Alzheimer’s: this lesser-known symptom is an early sign, according to a study
⋙ Alzheimer’s: this phone test could help with its diagnosis