Selkoe to discuss #amyloid and #Alzheimer’s in wake of another disappointing drug study

A recent story in The Atlantic asks “Is the Leading Theory About Alzheimer’s Wrong?

1905: Research at McLean

For years, scientist have been arguing about whether amyloid protein in the brain is a cause,or just a symptom of condition.  Pharma has been confident — or desperate — enough in the science to bet on amyloid clearing drugs, but they haven’t turned out to be very good bets. So far, none has proved effective.

On Tuesday morning, one of the chief proponents of the theory, Harvard’s Dennis Selkoe, will give a talk at McLean Hospital, the storied psychiatric facility in Belmont.  Entitled  “New Insights into the Protein Biology of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases,” it takes place at 11 am in room 132 of at the hospital’s de Marneffe Building.

And, if those in audience have read the Atlantic piece — in which Selkoe is quoted — they may have questions about Merck’s recent decision to abandon test on what was once considering a promising treatment. .



After Merck’s announcement last week, one neurologist told Bloomberg that “there is mounting evidence—of which this is another piece—that removing amyloid once people have established dementia is closing the barn door after the cows have left.” An advisor to a life-sciences venture-capital firm tweeted, “I’ve been a long-term adherent of the amyloid hypothesis, but starting to feel like this”: “This” was a gif of the Black Knight from Monty Python, arms missing but still adamant he had suffered nothing worse than a flesh wound.

And well, the amyloid hypothesis is not dead yet. Large clinical trials targeting amyloid are still underway—either using new, potentially more powerful anti-amyloid drugs or trying out the previously failed drugs in patients with less advanced Alzheimer’s. These trials will likely affirm the amyloid hypothesis or kill it for good.

#STATnews asks: Are #Alzheimer’s numbers inflated?

CaptureIn her “Gut Check” column, STAT’s Sharon Begley notes that a NEJM report  from Boston University’s Framingham Heart Study claims that “The percent of people developing dementia each year is falling significantly… raising hope that some cases can be prevented and, possibly, that the worst forecasts of a “looming dementia crisis in the United States are overblown

The study notes that other evidence has the Alzheimer’s Association “sticking with its projection that, by 2050, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s will nearly triple, to 13.8 million Americans.

… The reluctance to dial down those forecasts might reflect “public health catastrophism,” added Dr. Jeremy Greene of Johns Hopkins, who, together with Jones, coauthored an accompanying perspective article on the Framingham study.

“It’s risky for advocates [to temper the most dire forecasts] for fear that it might bring a loss of funding,” Greene said.”

For more on this, see this list of stories on the topic of pharmaceutical support for non-profit patient groups. A bit dated, but USA Today offered an update in January.

Health charities say they work with drug companies in the search for cures. Corporate support is a standard form of fundraising for non-profits. The stories linked above question whether those relationships — and the dollars that come with them — bias these health groups. Will they challenge the efficacy of a new drug if they get tens of thousands from the drug’s  maker?

So, how much does the Alzheimer’s Association get from drug makers?  No one knows –non-profits are not required to report donations. Deep into its annual report, you’ll find a list of donors, but not exact amounts of donations.




Amgen Foundation



Biogen Idec

Eli Lilly

Forum Pharmaceuticals


Janssen Pharmaceutical


Some of the same companies sponsored the group’s annual conference.




Nurses and nursing homes: Watchdog health reporting at the Globe

CaptureHow evil is it to charge people for Alzheimer’s care and not deliver it? How dangerous is it for people to go around saying they’re licensed nurses when they are not?

CaptureStuff like this is hard to track because, last we checked, the people in charge of records like these were not real helpful.  Liberal Massachusetts is known for its strict public records laws.

Kay Lazar of the Globe had this yesterday:

State regulators are citing more than four dozen Massachusetts nursing homes for advertising dementia care services when they don’t actually offer the kind of care required to make such a claim, according to the Department of Public Health.

and Felice Freyer had this Sunday, with a follow up Monday:

Massachusetts regulators revoked or suspended the professional licenses of 13 nurses after discovering recently that the health care workers lied about having nursing degrees or being licensed in other states, health department documents show.

The action sparked questions about the background checks state regulators rely on to issue licenses to thousands of nurses and applicants in 10 other health fields, including pharmacists, psychologists, podiatrists, and optometrists.

TedMed2012: Alzheimer’s research and a”ticking time bomb” from Brandeis

Say what you will about TED talks, they do offer an impressive list of speakers. TEDMED is underway in DC. And while the organization’s own site features more videos about parties than talks, you can find a nice post here about what two local researchers had to say.  From Chemical and Engineering News

Gregory Petsko knows why he came to TEDMED. “I’m looking for Al Gore,” he told me flat-out over lunch. Folks who know Petsko know the former Brandeis University biochemistry department chair isn’t one to mince words. And he’s nailed the reason why an academic might want to look outside traditional conferences and soak up some of the TEDMED aura. He’s looking for a charismatic champion to take up a biomedical cause: in Petsko’s case, it’s support for research in Alzheimer’s disease.

Petsko and Reisa Sperling, director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, talked about Alzheimer’s at TEDMED on Wednesday. Both talks were cast as calls to action. Just consider the introduction Petsko got from TEDMED chair and founder Jay S. Walker: “This is a man who hears a bomb ticking.”

Globe, WBUR on Alzheimer’s disease

Both The Globe and WBUR have had recent series on Alzheimer’s disease.

On Sunday, the Globe ran the last of a four-part, year-long series on a family coping losing their patriarch to early stage Alzheimer’s.

Bruce Vincent sits at a table in a stark room at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Charlestown research center, just a few minutes into what will be an hourlong test of his fading memory.

“Next, I will read you a list of words,’’ says research assistant Natacha Lorius, who sits across the table from him. “I need you to repeat the words back to me, in any order.

Suds, noose, spree, proxy, simile, nectar,’’ she says, reading slowly from a list of about 15 words.

When she finishes, Vincent, still raven haired and nearly wrinkle free at 49, stares at her for several seconds.

“I don’t remember any of them,’’ he says.

Alzheimer’s has recently quickened its devastating pace, snatching from Vincent more social skills and abilities than it had since his diagnosis three years earlier. He has a form of the disease that strikes at a young age.

Gone in the latest slide is the easy back and forth of conversation, the ability to sort and price products at the family’s Westminster grocery store that he once ran, and his recall of words, and sometimes entire conversations, from a few minutes earlier. Often he hovers, almost childlike, looking for direction in everyday tasks such as serving salad from a bowl to a dinner plate.

When Vincent shoveled his driveway after the snowstorm last month, he inexplicably walked dozens of yards to the backyard to empty each scoop, instead of simply tossing the snow to the side.

As the disease accelerates, Vincent’s family treasures all the more the bedrock pieces of his personality that remain — his optimism, his gentle nature, and especially his boyish humor.

“If I didn’t have Alzheimer’s,’’ Vincent confided after completing the memory-testing session, “that would have been a blast.’’ 

Are fears of Alzheimer’s overblown?

Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s op-ed in last week’s NYTimes dared to suggest that our fears about Alzheimer’s
may be overblown.  The Brandeis-based writer said:

 The mere whiff of perceived memory loss can have terrible consequences in an insecure economy in which midlife workers are
regularly (and illegally) laid off on account of their age. This epidemic of anxiety around memory loss is so strong that many older adults seek help for the kind of day-to-day forgetfulness that once was considered normal …Greater public awareness of Alzheimer’s, far from reducing the ignorance and stigma around  the disease, has increased it.

Today’s letters to the editor included several outraged responses

Having witnessed the disease firsthand, I can truly say there is something worse than death…I truly hope that Margaret
Morganroth Gullette and those she loves never experience the disease as my family has. I implore her not to use her public platform to minimize the horror that is Alzheimer’s.

But, Douglas Powell, described as the author “The Aging Intellect” and a psychology instructor at the Harvard Medical
School, came to her defense

Studies that followed up mildly impaired elders for three to five years found that a large minority remained stable and about 14 percent returned to normal. No one yet knows why.

French/American Alzheimer’s summit and the future of brain science

Related but separate events early this week.  Both are free but require registration

At the Broad all day Monday: AD: The Pursuit of Personalized Medicine’, the seminar will comprise six interactive sessions which will explore the latest research and innovative therapeutic strategies.

Contact person: Lynda Inséqué,617-832-4468, Email:deputy-inno.mst [ at ]

Organized by the Office of Science & Technology of the Embassy of France in the United States (Boston section), the French American Innovation Day (FAID) is designed to emphasize a specific topic that is significant to science, therapeutics and innovation. With the support of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), the 2010 FAID seminar will address the latest research in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in France and the United States. More here.

On Tuesday,

On Tuesday, Steven Hyman, MD, Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and university provost will speak on:”Brain Science & Society: Thinking about the Future”

Hosted by: Harvard Allston Education Portal

December 7 from 6:30 to 7:30 pm

Harvard Allston Education Portal,
 175 North Harvard Street, Allston, MA. 02134 Maps:Street map

<em>What effects do drugs have on the brain in treating mental illnesses? Are the drugs treating the causes or the symptoms? Does the use of these drugs influence an individual’s identity, undermine personal responsibility, or have negative effects on society?Free but must register Monday, Dec. 6 by phone at 617-496-5022 or e-mail

Free parking is available at 219 Western Avenue, adjacent to the Harvard Allston Education Portal at the corner of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue.