The highs and lows of Alzheimer’s research in 2021

Australian experts at the forefront of managing Alzheimer’s disease are calling for immediate action to reform the healthcare system, which they say is ill-prepared to manage the growing impact of the disease.

In a white paper titled The Future for Alzheimer’s disease in Australia, these experts say the disease is expected to affect more than one million Australians by 2058.

“As clinicians, researchers, and care providers, we are at the precipice of an exciting, yet daunting journey to optimise care for Australians living with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Associate Professor Michael Woodward from the Austin Health Memory Clinic in Victoria.

Read: Older Australians eating their way towards Alzheimer’s

At the launch of the white paper, he explained that the future arrival of disease-modifying therapies had brought us closer to a “critical juncture” in the Alzheimer’s journey.

This year has certainly been quite a journey when it comes to Alzheimer’s research. Below we look at just some of what has been discovered and discussed in relation to this disease.

First Alzheimer’s drug in 18 years
Perhaps the biggest news in the war on Alzheimer’s was the decision by US health officials to approve a new drug for the treatment of the disease.

The approval for the drug, called aducanumab, was not without controversy, however.

An independent advisory committee and some Alzheimer’s experts suggested there was not yet enough evidence that the drug could actually help patients.

The drug is under review by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia, with an announcement expected in early 2022.

Read: Scientists may have found a potential vaccine for Alzheimer’s

Australian researchers at the forefront of this year’s breakthroughs
When it came to Australia’s contribution to research, our scientists certainly punched well above their weight this year.

Scientists at Curtin University identified that the leakage of fat-carrying particles transporting toxic proteins from blood into the brain was a probable cause of Alzheimer’s disease, potentially solving one of the mysteries that had for so long prevented the discovery of a significant treatment.

Lead investigator Professor John Mamo said that identifying the ‘blood-to-brain pathway’ was a significant step forward in learning how to treat the condition.

Read: Research lifts Alzheimer’s treatment hopes

Meanwhile, scientists from the Australian National University found a way to predict when your faulty memory could develop into Alzheimer’s disease.

The scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) believe that their discovery will allow people suffering with mild cognitive impairment to know five years in advance whether or not they are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and the process doesn’t even involve a hospital visit.

The other big Australian discovery in 2021 was the Queensland Brain Institute’s finding a non-invasive way to treat Alzheimer’s.

Other important findings
The year was also littered with myriad other discoveries.

If the pandemic gave us nothing else, it provided a key understanding of the importance of vaccines. And instead of focusing on a cure, scientists believe they might have found a potential vaccine candidate for Alzheimer’s.

Developments in artificial intelligence also provided the prospect of predicting the occurrence of the disease with no need for brain scans. Swedish researchers also claimed they could detect the disease without brain scans, their method involved a combination of blood and memory tests for diagnosis.

There were also some significant lifestyle factor findings on the progression of the disease throughout the year. Some research on people living with Alzheimer’s suggested that being overweight put more pressure on brain health, while a separate study found that the age where you started gaining that weight played more of a role in your Alzheimer’s risk.

For those looking to slow the onset of symptoms, research showed that aerobic exercise could play a key role in slowing the memory loss associated with the disease.

Diet was also an important factor, with one of the more recent studies showing that older Australians consuming red meat, foods loaded with sugar and trans fats and other pro-inflammatory foods could be eating their way towards Alzheimer’s.

Are you impressed by the work Australian scientists are doing in this area? Do you think we will prevent Alzheimer’s in the not-too-distant future? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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