The Latest News in Alzheimer’s Disease Research

Researchers Glenn Simon, PhD, and graduate student Esteban Lucero.

In our latest episode of Health Happens, we took you behind the scenes of an Alzheimer’s research lab. We covered a lot of information – you can watch the video here! But for the purposes of this article, we want to focus specifically on the latest research.

Understanding the Mechanism of Alzheimer’s

Dr. Huntington Potter, Professor of Neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine says that scientists all over the world are trying to understand the mechanism of Alzheimer’s and to use that information to develop new drugs. “Several are in clinical trials right now and some look rather promising,” says Dr. Potter.

That includes research locally at the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “Alzheimer’s disease research at the University of Colorado is both basic laboratory research and clinical research,” explains Dr. Potter. “What we’re doing in the laboratory is trying to understand the intricacies of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and develop ‘new’ drugs that might help us block certain steps in the disease process.”

By “new” he also means drugs that are already in existence for other diseases that may be useful in fighting Alzheimer’s.

Lately in the news, Alzheimer’s has also been referred to as Type 3 diabetes. “It turns out that people with type 2 diabetes in which their bodies are unable to recognize insulin have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” notes Dr. Potter. “But it also turns out that people with Alzheimer’s disease do not use blood glucose properly in the brain so that their neurons can’t function properly. We are now investigating what is different about the neurons in an Alzheimer’s brain compared to your and my brains to understand what exactly they have trouble with and whether we can reverse it.”

The Hope that Lies Ahead

For many of us, Alzheimer’s has affected someone in our family. And for those people, they often find themselves worrying about developing the disease too. “If you were to look at a large group of people with Alzheimer’s disease, you’d find about 60 percent have a relative who had it, and we say there’s an inherited influence,” says Dr. Potter. If you’re in the other 40%, they believe your risk comes down to lifestyle. Dr. Potter says that while we can’t control our genes, we can control our lifestyle. “In fact,  we all have almost a 50% chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease by the time we’re 85. So rather than worry, everyone should focus on how they can change their lifestyles.”

What does he mean by lifestyle change?  “The clinicians at the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of Colorado Hospital frequently talk about the Six Pillars of Brain Health when they talk about lifestyle. At the top of the list is exercise,” says Dr. Potter. “The most important advice about exercise is that it seems to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, or at least delay it.”

So, there you have it. Another reason to make sure you’re getting your exercise.

And one last thing. If you’re looking to prevent yourself from developing Alzheimer’s, it turns out there are a lot of over-the-counter drugs that have been linked to development of the disease. Click here to see a list of those drugs.