The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Research, Part 2. Research Directions

Last week, the blog was an update on research reported about in the past. This week the blog discusses research a little more broadly. There’s a lot of new research going on about Lewy body disorders, particularly Parkinson’s, but much of that relates to LBD as well.

  • There is less emphasis on new drugs for these illnesses. It is now believed that the reason that most neurological diseases are not curable is because they aren’t diagnosed early enough. By the time treatment starts, the disease is so advanced that you can only treat the symptoms. Given that, there are still a couple of new drugs that are work discussing. One, Pimavanserin, was discussed in last week’s blog. When it comes to market, hopefully sometime next year, it is said to treat PD (and LBD) psychosis more safely than other neuropsychotics or behavior management drugs. The second, Amodafinil (Nuvigil) is a psychostimulant, similar to Provigil, which has since been shown to have unwanted side effects. This drug will be discussed in a future blog. There is also some interesting research with stem cells being developed for use in testing PD and LBD drugs.
  • There is more emphasis on discovering disease pathology well before there are any symptoms. Researchers are trying to identify biomarkers, i.e., objective, physical evidence of the presence of pathology. Until recently, accepted objective evidence of neurological diseases could only be obtained via brain autopsy. Now researchers are looking for evidence in other, more accessible areas of the body. Last week’s blog discussed biomarkers in the colon, saliva and skin. They may also be in the heart and eyes.
  • Better imaging is making it possible to identify neurological diseases with a high degree of assurance without autopsy. While none of these methods are accepted yet as full evidence, they are coming closer. The disadvantage of these methods are that they require special radioactive tracers, some of which must be used where they are made.
  • The Alzheimer’s researchers have started including Lewy body dementia patients in their studies and looking for similarities and differences. This means additional research for LBD related issues, especially for differential diagnoses.
  • With the belief that pathology can start early in life, researchers are looking more closely at alph-synuclien, the protein that becomes Lewy bodies when it misfolds, with at least two goals. One is to identify the areas of the body where this protein collects in excess quantities, in hopes of using it as a biomarker. The second is to find out what makes the protein misfold and become toxic.
  • What causes the pathology that leads to neurological disease is also being studied. It is now believed that Lewy body disorders are a result of a combination of genetic and environment conditions. It takes both, researchers believe. When one or the other is missing, the person will not develop the disease.
  • Some research has been successful at prevention, or at least stopping the progress of LBD. A special diet high in vegetables, fruit and fish and low in processed foods and meat may actually reverse dementia symptoms. Other researchers have found a protein that appears to protect seniors from age-related stress, and to decrease the likelihood of dementia. Now, they just have to find a way to manufacture this protein as a supplement or drug, and make it available for use. In the meantime, this research suggests that stress management becomes more important as one ages.

Future blogs will expand on the above subjects.

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