In the wake of comic actor, Gene Wilder’s death from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, news outlets are buzzing with hope over a possible breakthrough drug for the disease.
The new drug, called aducanumab, was able to destroy brain plaques in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable brain disorder that leads to problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Scientists believe that it’s caused by the buildup of strange protein clumps, called plaques and tangles, in the brain. Those clumps block brain cells from sending messages to each other and the body.
For the study, 165 individuals were split into four groups: each group was given different monthly doses of IV aducanumab over 54 weeks. One group was given a fake version of the drug, called a placebo, to make sure that the effects weren’t happening because of people’s mental state or motivation level.
The drug decreased the number of brain plaques for the 125 individuals who continued taking it for the whole length of the study—40 people dropped out because of serious side effects including fluid building up around the brain. Common, but less serious side effects included headaches and urinary tract infections.
Among people who stayed in the study, those who took the largest doses had the best results according to PET brain scans. A PET brain scan involves taking or getting injected with radioactive sugar, which helps to highlight how organs are working on powerful images.
It’s not clear if an actual sample of brain tissue would show the same results as the scans. Still, after one year, individuals actually experienced some improvements in their thinking abilities.
The small size of the group means that research on this drug still has a long way to go. More studies, with larger groups of people are being planned, so it’ll probably be at least a few years before aducanumab hits the market.