Alzheimer’s and disappointment

This week brought the incredibly sad but not really unexpected news that the bapineuzumab trial, one of a series of drugs being tested in the search for long-hoped for breakthroughs in the treatment of AD, was being halted for lack of efficacy.
Why did I write “not really unexpected?” Because the results are not surprising in light of the failure of similar agents from similar trials. No one likes writing this — there is not a single individual I know in the neurosciences and in neurological disease research that would have wept at the news of a successful outcome. But, it is also time for the neurodegenerative disease community to burst our hypotheses about AD wide open and be willing to pursue heterodox ideas and alternative approaches. I have written this before and I know how difficult it is to write it.

But there has, from the very beginning, always been conflicts and contradictions within the Amyloid hypothesis. There has always been questions about the over-use of rodent models (particularly rodent models developed with circular reasoning) for what is quintessentially a human disease. It is painful to criticize the brilliant men and women who have spent decades dedicated to research. It is hard to fault the Pharmaceutical companies who have spent millions and millions of dollars on trials. It is heartbreaking to consider the patients and their families (and in truth, who among us has not been touched by this horrible disease?) when they read the disappointing news. In the end, however, I do believe science can win. But we can’t turn any ideas away. The philanthropic organizations dedicated to advancing AD research and treatements have an obligation to seek alternative approaches and create an environment receptive to boldness.