Health Check: Detangling Alzheimer's disease

Dr. Brian Ott

Dr. Brian Ott works at Rhode Island Hospital and has been an Alzheimer's disease researcher for years.

His focus has been trying to better understand the memory-robbing disease and trying out new and promising experimental treatments.

"Up until now most, if not all the efforts have been focused on drugs that inhibit amyloid depositions in the plaques," Ott said.

A buildup of the protein known as beta amyloid is a known contributor to this memory robbing disease. But so is the tau protein.

"These are individual molecules, protein molecules and they tangle up," Ott said.

While there are a number of treatments, both experimental and FDA-approved to treat a buildup of the amyloid protein, Ott said the development of the drugs to inhibit the tangles has lagged.

Until now.

Rhode Island Hospital is part of a global trial of an experimental drug that has shown a lot of promise in earlier trials.

"And so what the drug does is it destabilizes those tangles so it untangles the tangles and hopefully prevents them from building up," Ott said. "This is the beginning, I think, of a line of medications that will be tried in years to come aimed at the tangles."

The hope is this experimental medication will not only dissolve these tangles but halt the progression of the disease.

"It's possible this approach will only be partially successful and we may still have to look at maybe a combined approach using drugs against amyloid as well as a drug like this," Ott said.

For this study, Rhode Island Hospital is recruiting people under the age of 90 with a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment who are already on medication to treat it. This is an 88-week trial. Those who participate may or may not get the actual drug for all but 10 of those weeks.