Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive brain disorder that leads to loss of memory, impaired cognitive function and dementia.
AD primarily affects the elderly but up to 5% of people with the disease have early-onset Alzheimer’s. Symptoms develop over time beginning with mild memory loss and progressing to more advanced symptoms such as disorientation, mood and behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
There is currently no cure for AD. Most people survive four to eight years with the disease but some can live as long as twenty years. As AD advances in severity, patients require increased supervision and care.
While there is no known cause of AD, persons with the disease develop abnormalities in the brain including beta-amyloid protein fragments and twisted strands of the protein tau, also known as ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’, respectively. These abnormalities lead to the loss of nerve cell connections, diminished cell function and eventually cell death. From a genetic perspective, the presence of the apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4) allele may predispose an individual to developing the disease later in life.
Currently, the FDA-approved AD drugs treat the symptoms of the disease. While they can slow the worsening of symptoms in some patients and improve a patient’s quality of life, the benefits are of a temporary nature. Drug development efforts are focused on ways to modify the disease process itself by impacting one or more of the brain abnormalities associated with AD with the goal of further slowing or stopping the progress of the disease.