Researching insulin resistance

Researchers are studying the effects of insulin on the brain and brain cell function, and insulin changes in the brain that may be related to Alzheimer's. A trial is testing an insulin nasal spray to determine if it slows the progression of Alzheimer's.

Studying the heart-head connection

Growing evidence suggests that brain health is closely linked to heart and blood vessel health. The risk of developing Alzheimer's appears to increase as a result of many conditions that damage the heart or arteries. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol.

A number of studies are exploring how best to build on this connection. Strategies under investigation include:

  • Current drugs for heart disease risk factors. Researchers are investigating whether drugs now used to treat vascular disease such as blood pressure medications may also help people with Alzheimer's or reduce the risk of developing the disease.
  • Drugs aimed at new targets. Additional projects are looking more closely at how the connection between heart disease and Alzheimer's works at the molecular level to find new drug targets.
  • Lifestyle choices. Researchers have explored whether lifestyle choices with known heart benefits, such as exercising on most days and eating a heart-healthy diet, may help prevent Alzheimer's disease or delay its onset.

Hormones

In one study, taking estrogen-based hormone therapy for at least a year during peri-menopause or early menopause appeared to protect thinking and memory in women with a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.

This finding highlights the importance of timing — certain interventions may only be helpful at specific times. The overall findings on hormone therapy, however, are mixed and further research is needed before any recommendations can be made.

Speeding treatment development

Developing new medications is a slow and painstaking process. The pace can be especially frustrating for people with Alzheimer's and their families who are waiting for new treatment options.

To help accelerate discovery, the Coalition Against Major Diseases (CAMD), an alliance of pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit foundations and government advisers, have forged a first-of-its-kind partnership to share data from Alzheimer's clinical trials.

Researchers anticipate that sharing these data from more than 4,000 study participants will speed development of more-effective therapies.

Feb. 26, 2016