Finding the common ground between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s at the ADPD conference

Dr Clare Walton reflects on the latest research she saw at the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease Congress held in Vienna.

Timeline of landmark discoveries in Alzheimer's disease at ADPD. Photo credit: @TheGBLab on Twitter

The Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease (ADPD) Congress happens every two years. It brings together over 3,000 researchers from the field of neurodegeneration. This includes specialists in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases but also on Parkinson’s disease dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia and some other rarer conditions.

From a clinical perspective, bringing these research fields together to share their latest findings makes a lot of sense. Although we define each of these forms of dementia as different conditions, we are increasingly learning that there is overlap between them.

Learning from each other

Several speakers, including Dr Lauren Walker from the University of Newcastle, reported that it is common to find that people have the biological hallmarks of more than one type of dementia in their brain. These hallmarks can be seen in a person’s brain tissue after they have died and, more recently, also in living people using innovative new brain imaging techniques.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who show signs of more than one type of dementia experience faster declines in cognitive function. These findings have important implications for the treatment of people with dementia. For example toxic clumps of amyloid protein are usually associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but reports from the conference showed that they are also present in the brains of people with dementia with Lewy bodies. This means we should be considering whether some people affected by dementia with Lewy bodies could benefit from the anti-amyloid treatments that are currently in development for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer's Society funded PhD student Emily Bell presents her work at ADPD

Stopping the spread between brain cells

Several sessions at the conference focused on disease processes that are shared by more than one condition. A topic that I find especially intriguing is the spreading of damaged, toxic proteins between brain cells. This has been observed in Parkinson’s, dementia with Lewy bodies and Alzheimer’s disease. In Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies, a protein called alpha-synuclein is the culprit. In Alzheimer’s it is the tau protein that passes between interconnected brain regions, seemingly bringing the damage of brain cells as it spreads.

Tau spreading was first discovered in 2009 and since then it has been observed in cells in a dish, in animal models and in the brains of people with dementia. Importantly, in people with Alzheimer’s disease, the movement of toxic tau from an area of the brain called the entorhinal cortex to the rest of the brain correlates with the development and progression of dementia symptoms. This discovery opens up a whole new avenue for developing treatments.

One approach being explored is to use antibodies that bind to the tau. This treatment aims to ‘mop up’ tau after it has been released by damaged brain cells and before it can be taken up by neighbouring cells. Researchers hope this will reduce how much tau spreads across the brain and therefore might slow down cognitive decline. The first vaccine against tau has been tested for safety by the biotech company AXON Neuroscience and is currently being tested for beneficial effects in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease in a small, early stage trial.

Abnormal tau protein is also a hallmark of frontotemporal dementia, a condition that currently has no treatments. AXON Neuroscience also discussed how their tau vaccine can trigger the production of useful antibodies in people with frontotemporal dementia. They will begin a clinical trial of the vaccine in people with a specific kind of frontotemporal dementia called primary progressive aphasia later in 2017.

Collaboration is the key to progress

This was my first time at the ADPD Congress and I was curious to learn how the two different research fields would come together. There was clearly an expanse of common ground between them in terms of the research techniques being developed and the molecular pathways and cellular mechanisms being explored. It was encouraging to see researchers working on one condition learning from the successes and failures of those working in a related disease area. This is another example of how being United Against Dementia is so important for progress to be made in finding much needed treatments for a number of different conditions.



Add your own

My mother has Alzheimer's whereas her two siblings both have Parkinson's. It certainly seems that they are related.

It is very difficult to ascertain what exactly is going on for someone diagnosed with Dementia, but the research is fascinating and hopefully will bear fruition in the near future or not too distant future, and thankful that there is so much interest in the research area around diagnosis and treatment. My husband has a diagnosis of vascular dementia, but as I compare notes with my peer carers, I can detect many symptoms of Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and Lewy body, and I am advised that perhaps he has what is termed - 'mixed dementia'. He is not on any medication for VD, but then how can he be treated anyway with no vision of a definite diagnosis. So this is another problem, I suppose.

Its very fascinating to learn about researches happening rapidly.The cases of dementia are increasing with old aged population increasing every year and the impact of deteriorating environment contributing to it.Hence rapid progress of research in dementia field is desirable for early detection and its treatment.

I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 3 years ago at the age of 59. For several months I had noticed tremors in my right hand and the shaking of my right foot when I was sitting. My normally beautiful cursive writing was now small cramped printing. And I tended to lose my balance. Neurologist had me walk down the hall and said I didn't swing my right arm. I had never noticed! I was in denial for a while as there is no history in my family of parents and five older siblings, but now accept I have classic symptoms. I am taking herbal treatment  and am about to start physical therapy to strengthen muscles.this herbal treatment has full get rid of my PD after 15 weeks of usage and it has reversed all symptoms.

I am a 51 year old female that just found out I have Parkinson's about a year and half, but I have been having signs of it for years, tremors, depression, body weakness. ECT. I honestly don't think my doctor was reading the signs because of my gender and age. A few years ago I had my shoulder lock up on me and I was sent to a P.T since x-rays didn't show any physical damage. My shaking was getting worse and I began falling. Only when my speech became so bad that it brought concern to my dentist was Parkinson's even considered. He phoned my doctor with his concerns about my shaking and balance problems. By this time I was forgoing shots in the back of my neck for back and neck pain to which once again I was sent to a P.T (although x-rays showed no damage) I was told I had a few spurs which were most likely causing the pain. Here I was feeling like my whole body was falling apart and doctor could not find anything wrong, maybe in was all in my head? My doctor even seemed annoyed with me and things just kept progressing and I just kept it to myself, why bother going through testing and them finding nothing? Well, it was after my second P.T called my doctor about the weakness in my legs and arms, by this time I have developed a gait in my walk and I fell more frequently. Only then did my doctor send me to a specialist and it was found that I had Parkinson's, and that I have had it for awhile. I think because I was a woman that my signs and symptoms weren't taken seriously and therefor left untreated for so long,I was taking pramipexole dihydrochloride three times daily, I Was on carbidopa levodopa but only lasted 90 minutes then wore off.I found that none of the current medications worked effective for me.I got tired of using those medication so I decided to apply natural herbs formula that was prescribed to me by my second P.T, i purchase the herbal formula from totalcureherbsfoundation. com, There has been huge progression ever since I start the treatment plan which will last for 15 weeks usage.all the symptoms and sign has begin to disappear .

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