Why Understanding Aging Biology is Critical to Conquering Alzheimer’s Disease

We’ve known for years that aging is the single greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s never clearer than when reviewing the hard numbers: 96 percent of the 5.5 million Americans living with the disease are over the age of 65 and one in three Americans over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s.

The challenge is translating this basic knowledge into a cure for the disease. That’s where the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), our portfolio of carefully selected drug discovery research targets, and cadre of events for researchers and those affected by Alzheimer’s comes into play.

This Friday, we’ll bring some of the world’s preeminent neuroscientists together at the New York Academy of Sciences in NYC for our annual conference, The Biology of Aging: Novel Drug Targets for Neurodegenerative Disease.

Why host conferences like this? And how can this gathering lead to the development of drugs to prevent, slow and cure Alzheimer’s disease? 

What We Know About Aging and Alzheimer’s

Our time living on Earth and our genetic makeup both play an enormous role in aging, longevity and cognitive health as we age.  Exposure to things like oxidation, UV rays from the sun and physical stressors and lifestyle choices all contribute to physical and mental aging. Genetics, however, are the single most reliable way to determine how long a person will live. 

We also know that amyloid proteins accumulate with aging and that beta-amyloid is present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. But we don’t know if beta-amyloid is a primary cause of Alzheimer’s or a secondary factor of the disease. Additionally, we know that as people age they began to suffer from more chronic illnesses; these illnesses, in turn, have an impact on cognitive health.

How We’re Using this Knowledge to Prevent and Cure Alzheimer’s

ADDF-funded scientists are using what we know about the biology of aging to investigate and develop therapeutics that may be able to slow—and even prevent—the progression and onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  Here, a few examples of how this knowledge can lead to drug discovery:

What we know: Researchers know that inflammation increases with aging—and that systemic inflammation kills neurons and has a negative effect on the brain.

How it helps: Scientists are investigating a number of therapeutic approaches designed to reduce inflammation in the brain. They hope that by reducing inflammation they can also prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. 

What we know: Scientists also know that, as we age, many proteins in our brain and body begin misfolding. This process can turn a once harmless protein into a toxic protein. When beta-amyloid proteins misfold, for example, they become toxic to neurons.

How it helps: Scientists are using this knowledge to investigate drugs that enhance natural cell processes that play a role in disposing of misfolded proteins, such as beta-amyloid proteins.  Drugs that enhance these processes could theoretically reverse Alzheimer’s disease.

We’ll be diving deeper into these and other promising pathways for Alzheimer’s drug discovery at Friday’s conference. Events like these play a crucial role in advancing the scientific conversation and moving us closer to a cure.