All the Alzheimer’s Research We Didn’t Do

Excerpt – In 2022, my investigation in Science showed evidence that the famous 2006 experiment that helped push forward the amyloid hypothesis [for Alzheimer’s Disease] used falsified data. On June 24, after most of its authors conceded technical images were doctored, the paper was finally retracted. Days later, a City University of New York scientist behind a well-financed, controversial Alzheimer’s drug was indicted on charges alleging research fraud.

Such cases are extreme. Yet few of the multitude of honest Alzheimer’s papers offer much hope to patients.

In reporting for my forthcoming book about the disturbing state of play in Alzheimer’s research, I’ve spoken to many scientists pursuing alternatives. Dr. [neurologist at the National Institute on Aging Madhav] Thambisetty, for example, compares brain tissues from people who died in their 30s or 40s with and without genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s. He then compares these findings to tissues from deceased Alzheimer’s patients and people who didn’t have the disease. Where changes overlap, drug targets might emerge. Rather than develop new drugs through lab and animal testing, followed by clinical trials that cost vast sums — a process that can take decades — he examines treatments already approved as reasonably safe and effective for other conditions. Patent protections have lapsed for many, making them inexpensive. [..]

Like most amyloid skeptics, Dr. [Vanderbilt University neurologist Matthew] Schrag agrees that amyloid-beta proteins play a role in the complex mystery of Alzheimer’s, but they’re not the singular key to a cure that so many scientists imagine. If there was a universal source for Alzheimer’s it would show up earlier in life, and be more evident in everyone who suffers from the disease.

Ultimately, solutions to Alzheimer’s could arrive much faster if the amyloid hypothesis wasn’t reinforced with quasi-religious zeal by many of the field’s most powerful scholars.

“There is an entrenched echo chamber that involves a lot of big names,” Dr. Schrag said. “It’s time for the field to move on.”

C Piller, New York Times, 2024.7.7