What’s New in Neurodegenerative Disease Research

By Kate Anastas
Friday, July 30, 2021

In 2021, scientists continue to learn about diagnosis, treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

More Than Alzheimer’s Disease?

Recent autopsy studies show more than half of people with Alzheimer’s disease have mixed pathologies. Alzheimer’s disease brain changes occurred with brain changes from other causes of dementia, such as cerebrovascular disease and Lewy body disease.

New Clue: Abnormal Blood Samples

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed blood samples of more than 10,000 people and found that abnormal blood levels of 38 proteins were associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in five years. Sixteen of the 38 proteins predicted Alzheimer’s disease risk two decades in advance. One particular protein — SVEP1 — may be a causal contributor to the disease.

Gut and Brain Connection

Impaired gut health may be an indicator for Parkinson’s disease. A new study published in Metabolites found that people with Parkinson’s disease had higher levels of disruptive bacteria in the appendix than those from the control group without the condition. While researchers have yet to determine if the microbiota changes cause the disease or result from the disease, treatments aimed at biliary acids or the microbiome may be a future option to slow disease progress.

Recent Drug on the Market

In June, the FDA granted accelerated approval for a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease — Aduhelm (aducanumab). Currently, no pharmacologic treatments slow or stop damage to neurons that cause Alzheimer’s disease. However, in three separate studies, patients who received Aduhelm had significant dose- and time-dependent reduction of amyloid beta plaque, an indication of Alzheimer’s disease. The medication is not without controversy, however, because of its high cost per year and because of ongoing debate about its clinical effectiveness.