Data suggests that over 99 percent of drugs designed for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease are proven ineffective during clinical trials but additional studies indicate increased exercise may help those at risk for the disease. The Cleveland Clinic collected data regarding ongoing clinical trials that showed only one of 244 drugs tested for the treatment of the neurological ailment between 2002 and 2012 was found successful. Another study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that exercise, however, could significantly slow the progression of the disease.
There are multiple explanations for the failure of drug therapy for the cognitive disorder to date. One problem with pharmaceutical developments is that, though this trend is changing, medical science understands much more about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease than it does about the root causes. As a result, the drugs that have been developed, to date, have focused primarily on the treatment of symptoms and are therefore less effective. Another factor is that the approach to drug therapy has been focused primarily on preventing the buildup of plaque in the brain but some believe there may be other and more effective means to halt the progress of the disease. Furthermore, the time it takes to complete testing on a given pharmacological remedy takes roughly 10 years, which means the drugs nearing potential release are a decade behind the most current scientific advances.
The study by the NCBI, on the other hand, did not evaluate drugs but activity. In contrast to the Cleveland Clinic’s data where most drugs were shown to be all but ineffective, the individuals at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease studied by the NCBI that gained the most exercise were shown to have less atrophy in the affected region of the brain, which helped them avoid the memory loss associated with the disease. The tests also showed that increased activity was something that needed to be sustained for maximum effectiveness. While neural atrophy occurs naturally with age regardless of the presence of Alzheimer’s disease, the increased exercise slows the pace of this atrophy in the part of the brain most affected by the disease for those with a genetic predisposition while there was no significant impact on that region when the individual was not predisposed.
In another study, researchers at Rockefeller University found that a new compound might treat the memory ailment in a different way than previous drugs and possibly more effectively. This compound, RU-505, focuses on decreasing clotting and restoring healthy blood flow to the brain rather than limiting plaque buildup. Initial laboratory tests show that mice with Alzheimer’s disease that are treated with this compound performed better in maze navigation than those untreated. Similar to the exercise model this treatment was effective in slowing the effects of the disease but did not present any evidence of reversing the disease.
As the human race continues to live longer and longer, diseases related to advanced age will continue to gain the attention and focus of the health and scientific communities. Unfortunately, it appears health science has a way to go before a cure will be found for Alzheimer’s disease, but at least studies have shown that good old-fashioned exercise may help offset the ineffective drugs available if done often and before symptoms begin.
By David Morris