LOS ANGELES, CA — Nearly 6,000 of the brightest minds in dementia research, including representatives from the Greater New Jersey Chapter of Alzheimer's Association (AAGNJ), recently convened in Los Angeles, recently convened in Los Angeles for the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), the world’s largest gathering of researchers from around the world focused on Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Featuring more than 3,400 scientific presentations, AAIC serves as a catalyst for generating new knowledge about dementia and fostering a vital, collegial research community.
“The data presented at AAIC this year reflects the diversity of approaches being used to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s,” said Maria Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer for Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s critical that the field pursue new avenues of research to provide better treatments for the millions of people living with these diseases.”
Change Comes Through Advocacy and Research
Largely through the efforts of Alzheimer’s Association advocates nationwide, and with the support of their bi-partisan champions in Congress, funding for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has seen a five-fold increase in funding in recent years.
Annual funding for Alzheimer’s at the NIH, which was $425 million in 2012, is now nearly $2.4 billion. However, U.S. Alzheimer's research funding still receives less than what leading experts say is required to meet the primary goal of the U.S. National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease—to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's by 2025.
Public Support and Participation Leads to Change
The Alzheimer's Association is a nationwide organization, comprising local chapters and providing services within each community—all united through a common mission. Through funds raised from The Longest Day, The Walk to End Alzheimer’s and other Relationship Events & Strategic Partnerships, the Greater New Jersey Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association (AAGNJ) is able to further the strategic goals of the association throughout New Jersey by enhancing care and support, increasing concern of Alzheimer's disease and awareness of the Association, advancing research, advocating for those affected by the disease and increasing revenue to support the Association's overall mission.
Cheryl Ricci-Francione, executive director of AAGNJ, noted that New Jerseyans can help accelerate change by registering to participate in one of five upcoming Walks to End Alzheimer’s: Sept. 14 at Bradley Beach Boardwalk in Bradley Beach; Sept. 22 at Horseshoe Lake Park in Succasunna; Sept. 28 at South Mountain Reservation in West Orange; Oct. 5 at Veterans Park in Hamilton Township and; Oct. 13 at Overpeck Park in Ridgefield Park.
“The Walk To End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research,” said Ricci-Francione. “Participants also learn about the disease, advocacy opportunities, clinical studies enrollment and support programs and services.”
Lifestyle Interventions Can Offset Elevated Alzheimer’s Risk
According to Ricci-Francione, new research reported at AAIC 2019 suggests that adopting multiple healthy lifestyle choices, including healthy diet, not smoking, regular exercise and cognitive stimulation, may decrease the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. One study reported that participants who adopted four or five low-risk lifestyle factors had about 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s dementia compared with participants who did not follow any or only one of the low-risk factors.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leader in funding the on-going U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER)—a two-year trial to evaluate whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors can protect cognitive function in older adults who are at increased risk for cognitive decline. The study is now active at four sites in the U.S. with a fifth launching soon, with plans to enroll 2,000 participants aged 60-79.
“While the field continues to work toward developing treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, it’s also important to identify lifestyle changes that people can make to improve the symptoms or progression of these diseases and new targets for treatment,” said Dr. Carrillo.
Blood Markers Could Improve Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
Data at AAIC 2019 also described advances in blood-based methods for evaluating markers of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
“There is a great need for reliable, inexpensive, easy to administer, non-invasive and easily available diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s,” said Ricci-Francione. “Families facing Alzheimer's now, and in the future, would benefit greatly from such tools that could accelerate diagnosis earlier in the disease process, and allow for improved and accelerated delivery of care and planning.”
Ricci-Francione added that these new testing technologies, which are currently under development by industry and academic researchers, could also potentially be used to track the impact of therapies in clinical trials.
Alzheimer’s Risk, Progression and Resilience Differs by Sex
Research at AAIC 2019 identified several differences in the biology, progression and risk of Alzheimer’s disease between men and women. Several studies reported on sex-specific differences that could inform unique risk profiles and help the field better understand why the majority of people living with Alzheimer’s are women.
Two studies found sex-specific risk genes for Alzheimer’s disease, as well as differences in the structural and functional connections in the brains of women that might contribute to accelerated spread of abnormal tau protein, which tracks closely with cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Another study suggests that women have higher levels of brain energy usage than men, potentially explaining better verbal memory and enabling them to better compensate for early Alzheimer’s-related brain changes.
New Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials Test Novel Treatment Approaches
In addition to the U.S. POINTER Study, researchers reported on the initiation of the GAIN (GingipAIN Inhibitor for Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease) trial. The study is the first large, international trial to evaluate a therapeutic approach based on emerging data that suggest the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis, commonly associated with gum disease, can infect the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Every step forward strengthens the Alzheimer’s Association vision of a world without Alzheimer’s. Every stride forward brings us closer to achieving that goal,” said Ricci-Francione. “Together, we can raise awareness and funds to enhance Alzheimer’s care and support, and advance critical research.”
Register to walk with AAGNJ at alz.org/njwalk.