New Study Offers Insight into Alzheimer’s Disease Research Landscape

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The sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and estimated to affect approximately 45 million people worldwide, Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that causes memory loss and overall mental deterioration. Coinciding with World Alzheimer’s Month, Elsevier just released a report (which you can download here) analyzing Alzheimer’s research spanning the last 50 years in order to present a comprehensive overview of the research landscape for this irreversible condition.

Major takeaways from the report

A few key insights that came from this analysis, which we conducted using SciVal, Scopus, ScienceDirect, Pathway Studio and Elsevier Text Mining, include:

  • Research output for Alzheimer’s disease exceeded the growth seen for all research from 2008 to 2012, but it has since slowed
  • Since the ‘90s, there has been a major focus on amyloid protein in Alzheimer’s research, but there has been a recent shift to interest in behavioral topics like learning, sleep and gait
  • By far, the most Alzheimer’s disease research output comes from the U.S., followed by China
  • Higher-income countries show more focus in Alzheimer’s research, due to longer lifespans that result in more people being affected by the disease
  • Even though women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease, human and animal models disproportionately use male subjects

Trends in Alzheimer’s disease targets

Looking at the period from 1999 to 2018, the research on
APP appears to dwarf all other protein studies. BACE1 (or β-secretase), which
also appears among the top 5 protein targets studies in Alzheimer’s disease
research, is involved in generation of amyloid-β peptides from APP. 

After APP, other major targets for research appear, including MAPT (microtubule-associated protein tau, which structurally stabilizes neurons), and PSEN1 and PSEN2 (subunits of γ secretase, which is involved in producing amyloid-β from APP), all of which have been posited to be involved in various aspect of Alzheimer’s disease. Other proteins in the top targets include those involved in immunity, DNA damage repair, cell death and protein modification.

What could the future of Alzheimer’s disease research
look like?

Analyzing the research output over the last several decades
offered a lot of insight about Alzheimer’s disease research, but what’s in
store for the future?

It is my opinion that an increased focus on the molecular
mechanisms involved in Alzheimer’s disease would provide immense insight.
Understanding the pathological pathways involved in Alzheimer’s disease is
fundamental in such a complex, multi-faceted disease. Many therapeutics are
targeted at a single pathway that has a lower chance of success and is one of
the reasons there are not yet any current drugs that halt, reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s
disease.

Each year, more and more protein targets are implicated in
Alzheimer’s disease, and without an understanding of these, it is hard to gain
insight into the whole picture, which in turn could provide valuable
information for drug development and treatment options.

Much of the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease occurs
before any signs or symptoms are presented by patients, so treating early or before
diagnosis may be a potential avenue to explore. Looking at the disease from
multiple angles (i.e. from basic science research all the way through to behavioral
studies), and focusing on knowledge-sharing and lessons learned from all these
fields of study, could provide the key breakthroughs needed to treat, prevent
and cure this disease that devastates patients, family and friends, caregivers
and society.

View Elsevier’s report Alzheimer’s disease research insights: impacts, trends, opportunities, and click here to learn more about Elsevier’s R&D Solutions for Pharma & Life Sciences.