Dementia in the News

There is hope for aging baby boomers.

The ability to recall names and faces with lightning speed may start to fade in one’s 20s, but our capability to perform other functions, such as learning new words, doesn’t peak until decades later, according to a new study by Boston scientists.

A National Institutes of Health-led public-private partnership to transform and accelerate drug development achieved a significant milestone today with the launch of a new Alzheimer’s Big Data portal - including delivery of the first wave of data - for use by the research community. The new data sharing and analysis resource is part of the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), an unprecedented venture bringing together NIH, the U.S.

Alzheimer's researchers at Harvard for the first time are scanning the brains of healthy patients for the presence of a hallmark protein called tau, which forms toxic tangles of nerve fibers associated with the fatal disease.

The new scans are part of a large clinical trial called Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer's or A4, the first designed to identify and treat patients in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's, before memory loss begins.

Venture capitalists are known for making bold bets on high-risk projects that have the potential for huge payoffs. Today, driven by that vision, a group of business leaders who founded the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (CAF) to find a cure for this disease are seeing important returns on their investment in research at Mass General and beyond.

The scientific results the CAF support has brought about are nothing short of game changing as Mass General researchers resolve some long-unanswered questions about how Alzheimer’s disease develops.

Although natural selection is often thought of as a force that determines the adaptation of replicating organisms to their environment, Harvard researchers have found that selection also occurs at the level of neurons, which are post-mitotic cells, and plays a critical role in the emergence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Banked brain tissue enables crucial advances in the understanding and treatment of degenerative disorders. As appreciation of the many different variants of neurodegenerative disease is growing, well-preserved tissue is in more demand than ever. Are the brain banks up to the task? Modern banks are harmonizing protocols, combining their inventories in online listings, and maintaining databases of detailed longitudinal data. At the same time, these institutions face funding shortfalls that threaten continued progress.

Our susceptibility to disease depends both on the genes that we inherit from our parents and on our lifetime experiences. These two components - nature and nurture - seem to affect very different processes in the context of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study published today in the journal Nature.

In 2010, a graduate student named Tamar Gefen got to know a remarkable group of older people.

They had volunteered for a study of memory at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Although they were all over age 80, Ms. Gefen and her colleagues found that they scored as well on memory tests as people in their 50s. Some complained that they remembered too much.

She and her colleagues referred to them as SuperAgers. Many were also friends. “A couple tried to set me up with their grandsons,” Ms. Gefen said.

A report issued Thursday on the financial impact of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States warns that it could soar to more than $1 trillion a year by 2050, with much of it borne by the federal government, unless action is taken to shift current trends.

Increasingly, big data is changing life’s game board.

As technology evolves and becomes further integrated into society, massive amounts of data are being collected and stored. From the app on your cellphone to the swipe of your credit card to the systems that monitor everyday activities, data is endlessly transmitted and interpreted. With supercomputers within easy reach and storage infinitely scalable, researchers now have the power and resources not just to collect data, but to analyze it and make important discoveries.

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