Finding a drug that works to treat Alzheimer’s, let alone finding a cure, is an almost impossible feat.
But, as part of Scientific American’s “20 Big Questions about the Future of Humanity” series, the magazine asked Harvard Medical School neurology professor Reisa Sperling the question: Will there ever be an Alzheimer’s cure?
“I am not sure if there will be a cure, per se,” said Sperling, “but I am very hopeful that there will be a successful disease-modifying therapy for Alzheimer’s disease within the next decade.
That’s where a lot of research is being done. And, although there’s still a lot we don’t know about how Alzheimer’s works, the ways researchers have approached drug research and development have been steadily improving.
For example, researchers are using improved brain imaging systems, which help them see the the markers of Alzheimer’s. That way, during drug trials, they can keep track of these markers to see if a drug is acting in the brain the way it’s intended to.
Research on potential patients is also starting earlier: “We have now started prevention trials that are testing biological interventions even before people show clinical symptoms of the disease,” Sperling said.
Overall, Alzheimer’s might be a disease we don’t necessarily hunt for a cure for, but maybe instead for prevention tactics and other treatments that could push back the timeline on the disease.
“We don’t have to cure Alzheimer’s — we just need to delay dementia by five to 10 years,” she said. “Estimates show that a five-year delay in the terrible and expensive dementia stage of the disease would reduce Medicare dementia costs by nearly 50%. Most important, that would mean that many older people could die while out ballroom dancing rather than in nursing homes.”
Researchers estimate that about 13.8 million people in the US will be living with Alzheimer’s by 2050, up from 5.3 million in 2015. As Sperling noted, Alzheimer’s is a costly disease to care for and usually involves long-term care for patients. It’d be ideal if more people diagnosed with the disease could be out dancing for longer.
Read the rest of Scientific American’s 20 Big Questions series here.
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