Unfortunately, the fight against Alzheimer’s disease has been very difficult. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and it effects a large proportion of the elderly. I’ve seen numbers that range from 3% to 12% and it’s unclear the exact percentage.
Cause still unknown; treatments have largely failed
For the last couple of decades researchers have thought that Alzheimer’s disease could be caused by a build up of amyloid plaques in the brain. It turns out that the foundation of that line of research appears to have been fraudulent. Additionally, 16 drugs that have been intended to reduce amyloid plaques (and they largely succeeded) have failed to slow down Alzheimer’s disease. For example, Aducanumab, a Biogen drug that recently received a sort of rushed, tentative FDA approval appears to be overpriced and ineffective. I spoke with Dr. Andrea An, a neurologist in Mesa, AZ, who said she is unlikely to be able to use the drug at her practice. The side effects are horrendous, the price is too high, the benefits too uncertain.
Treatment for depression symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease patients also ineffective
A recent study found that there is no evidence at all that drugs designed to treat depression are able to help patients who have Alzheimer’s disease with their depressive symptoms. This is very discouraging because depression is one of the more brutal symptoms of the terrible disease. It is, however, good to know that doctors don’t need to prescribe such meds, though, because they are expensive and they have side effects.
I personally helped deal with a lot of evidence quality problems in my own field of marketing science (see OpenMKT.org for more info). Here are my thoughts about Alzheimer’s research after writing about the research that has been done in the area over the last couple of months:
- Look at the incentives. Drug companies have billions invested so their drugs have to work. Lobbyists ensure that lawmaker interests are aligned with drug company interests. Academic researchers have to find positive, significant results in order to obtain career benefits and prestige. The incentives are broken and are putting patients at risk. It’d be so much better and safer if we were honest with the patients when things (like Biogen’s bad drugs) are not effective.
- Look to wild animals and primitive cultures. It seems likely that something about modern living causes higher incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases. It makes sense to look to wild animals and primitive cultures that are less susceptible to these degenerative diseases to see what they are doing different from us that may make all the difference. My personal opinion is that it’s the food. Perhaps a more primitive Weston A Price diet or a Blue Zones/Mediterranean diet would be better.
- Fancy statistics. I pointed out in a different blog post how misuse of statistics leads to the wrong conclusion. In that case it was a statistical model that linked Alzheimer’s disease to obesity (despite the fact that the raw #’s show that obese people are not more likely to acquire Alzheimer’s disease). It’d be so much better if we kept it simple rather than getting all creative with the statistical modeling.
Photo credit: Photo by Danie Franco