Current Areas of Study on Alzheimer's
Mild Cognitive Impairment
During the past several years, Alzheimer's research scientists have focused on a type of memory change called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is different from both Alzheimer's disease and normal age-related memory change.
People with MCI have ongoing memory problems, but they do not experience other problems associated with Alzheimer's disease, such as confusion, attention problems, and difficulty with language.
A recent MCI study found that people taking the drug donepezil (Aricept®) were at reduced risk of progressing to Alzheimer's disease for the first 18 months of a 3-year study when compared with their counterparts on placebo.
The reduced risk of progressing from MCI to a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease among participants on donepezil disappeared after 18 months, and by the end of the study, the probability of progressing to Alzheimer's disease was the same in both groups.
Scientists are finding that damage to parts of the brain involved in memory, such as the hippocampus, can sometimes be seen on brain scans before Alzheimer's symptoms occur. Currently, a large research study is being conducted that will determine whether magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, or other imaging or biological markers, can see early changes or measure disease progression.
There is evidence that inflammation in the brain may contribute to damage due to Alzheimer's disease. Some research studies have suggested that drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) might help slow down the progression of Alzheimer's, but clinical trials thus far have not demonstrated a benefit from these drugs.
A clinical trial studying two of these drugs, rofecoxib (Vioxx®) and naproxen (Aleve®), showed that they did not delay the progression of Alzheimer's disease in people who already have it. Another trial, testing whether the NSAIDs celecoxib (Celebrex®) and naproxen could prevent Alzheimer's disease in healthy older people at risk for it, has been suspended.
However, investigators are continuing to follow the participants and are examining data regarding possible cardiovascular risk. Researchers are continuing to look for ways to test how other anti-inflammatory drugs might affect the development or progression of Alzheimer's disease.