Diagnosis

Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are diseases of the brain, but unlike diseases that affect other organs, it’s difficult to measure changes in the brain without expensive or invasive tests. The development of the Amyvid PET scan in 2012, seed-funded by the ADDF, was an important breakthrough; it has enabled researchers to ensure that patients in Alzheimer’s trials actually have the disease. However, more reliable, affordable, and accessible diagnostics will allow us to better understand how the disease progresses, more easily identify people for clinical trials, and more accurately monitor their response to treatments.

To address this need, the ADDF partnered with Bill Gates in July 2018 to launch the Diagnostics Accelerator, which is advancing bold new ideas for earlier and better diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The initiative aims to push the envelope with innovative approaches and thinking by providing funding, scientific expertise, and resources.

Below are the existing types of tests.

Cognitive Tests

Cognitive Tests

Your doctor may conduct a short cognitive test if you have risk factors or are showing signs of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. These tests can be as short as 10 minutes and include a series of questions, memorization exercises, and simple tasks, such as clock drawing. These tests alone cannot definitively diagnose the disease.

Neuroimaging

Neuroimaging

PET scans, such as Amyvid, image plaques in the brain and can detect them decades before Alzheimer’s symptoms appear. These tests are expensive and not currently covered by Medicare. Other PET scans are being developed to image other biological changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. MRIs are used to detect changes in brain volume that can happen in Alzheimer’s, though these are not commonly used for diagnosis by a doctor.

Fluid-Based Tests

Fluid-Based Tests

Levels of certain proteins, such as amyloid and tau, are detectable in cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). Researchers use CSF tests in clinical trials and other studies, but doctors rarely do so for diagnosis because the tests are invasive. Blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease are not yet available, though many are in development.

Treatments

There are currently no drugs available to prevent, treat, or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease. The five FDA-approved medications available for Alzheimer’s are designed to relieve symptoms such as memory loss, for a limited time. These drugs— Aricept®, Exelon®, Namenda®, Namzaric® and Razadyne®—work in two ways. Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne are cholinesterase inhibitors. They help to increase levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals from one brain cell to another. Namenda works by regulating the activity of a different neurotransmitter called glutamate. (Namzaric combines the two approaches.) Neurotransmitters are important for learning, memory, and cognition. Though none of these drugs can stop damage to brain cells, they may alleviate memory issues for a short time by regulating neurotransmitters.

 

There are more than 120 potential drugs in clinical trials now designed to treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s, rather than its symptoms. The ADDF has supported 20% of these, and many more ADDF-funded treatments are expected to be in human trials this year. We also support research into prevention strategies, such as comparative effectiveness.

There has never been a greater need for the ADDF. With an aging population and increasing number of people with Alzheimer’s, it is critical that we invest in a cure.

Clinical Trials Report

Clinical Trials Report

The ADDF's Clinical Trials Report surveys the drugs in clinical development for Alzheimer’s. Read the full report Learn More