Diabetes Forecast

New Drug Shows Promise as Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment

What to Know

The buildup of protein plaques in the brain appears to be a primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. These plaques—known as amyloid beta—have been the target of numerous efforts to develop treatments to prevent the disease or to halt or slow its progress. Currently, a group of researchers have focused their attention on aducanumab, an antibody that may reduce amyloid beta buildup and help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Study

Researchers randomly assigned 125 people with early Alzheimer’s disease, whose brain scans showed the presence of amyloid beta plaques, to one of five groups. Each group received a different dose of aducanumab or a placebo. After six months and again after a year, the researchers scanned the participants’ brains and measured the accumulation of plaques. The participants also took memory, problem solving and other types of tests to measure cognitive impairment. The goal: to determine if reduction in the plaques corresponded to a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia, which harms memory and other thinking skills, making everyday activities increasingly difficult.

The Results

Aducanumab appears to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Monthly injections of the experimental treatment reduced the amount of amyloid beta plaques in the brain, and the stronger the dose, the better and faster the result. Those given the highest dose were nearly plaque free. What’s more, those who received aducanumab performed better on the cognitive tests than the placebo group, which suggests that aducanumab may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Aducanumab caused potentially serious brain swelling in 34 of the participants, but it disappeared within four to 12 weeks and did not require hospitalization. Other side effects included headache, urinary tract infection, and upper respiratory infection.


The results showed promise, though the study was too small to determine whether aducanumab will prove to be an effective and safe treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. However, two large trials are now underway to answer that question. Researchers are still recruiting and hope to include about 2,700 people between the ages of 50 and 85. The trials, conducted worldwide, will run until at least 2020.

The Antibody Aducanumab Reduces Aβ Plaques in Alzheimer’s Disease.” Jeff Sevigny, Ping Chiao, Thierry Bussière, Paul H. Weinreb, Leslie Williams, Marcel Maier, Robert Dunstan, Stephen Salloway, Tianle Chen, Yan Ling, John O’Gorman, Fang Qian, Mahin Arastu, Mingwei Li, Sowmya Chollate, Melanie S. Brennan, Omar Quintero-Monzon, Robert H. Scannevin, H. Moore Arnold, Thomas Engber, Kenneth Rhodes, James Ferrero, Yaming Hang, Alvydas Mikulskis, Jan Grimm, Christoph Hock, Roger M. Nitsch, Alfred Sandrock Nature 2016 Sept; 537: 50–56

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