Alzheimer’s Research in 2021: A Look Back

The last year saw many breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s treatment, diagnosis and understanding. Thanks to the incredible work of volunteers across the state – from Walk to End Alzheimer’s to The Longest Day events to public policy advocates – the Alzheimer’s Association Florida chapters were able to support critical awareness, research and support programs like these.

In no particular order, here are our top five 2021 Alzheimer’s research advances:

  1. A link between COVID-19 and the brain. In July, the Alzheimer’s Association’s international, multidisciplinary SARS-CoV-2 consortium presented its first data on the short- and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 infection on the brain. The data, reported at AAIC 2021, suggested a link between COVID-19 and persistent cognitive impairment, including the acceleration of Alzheimer’s symptoms. 
  2. The Alzheimer’s drug pipeline heated up. In the second half of 2021, there was renewed excitement in the class of experimental Alzheimer’s drugs that target beta-amyloid. These include drugs from Eli Lilly (donanemab), Eisai (lecanemab) and Roche (gantenerumab), all of which received Breakthrough Designation by the FDA in 2021. We also heard topline results from a phase 2 trial of a drug that targets tau tangles, a toxic protein in the Alzheimer’s brain. Plus, strategies targeting neuroinflammation, protecting brain cells, and reducing vascular contributions to dementia – all funded by the Part the Cloud program – advanced into clinical trials. 
  3. Diversity was a major focus in all things Alzheimer’s. Researchers are working to better understand how Alzheimer’s risk and progression differ in different populations. 
    • Alzheimer’s Association-funded researcher Kacie Deters published findings that suggest Black individuals have lower levels of an Alzheimer’s marker in the brain compared to other groups with similar cognitive abilities. 
    • The Alzheimer’s Association’s New IDEAS study – which is evaluating brain amyloid PET scans in individuals of underrepresented populations with memory loss – aims to recruit a minimum of 2,000 Black and 2,000 Hispanic individuals. 
  4. Blood tests for Alzheimer’s took a major step forward. We’ve seen advances in the development of blood tests that provide a simple, accurate, non-invasive way to detect Alzheimer’s years before symptoms appear. Now, they’re being used to screen people for participation in a new clinical trial to prevent memory loss. 
  5. Research uncovered another benefit of exercise on the brain. An August 2021 study found a hormone produced by muscles during exercise can bolster the health of neurons and improve thinking and memory. While the results are very preliminary, this offers more evidence that exercise is good for the long-term health of the brain.

Get involved with your local Florida chapter today using the links below. If you or a loved one has questions about Alzheimer’s or other dementia, please call our 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.

Central & North Florida Chapter (serving Orlando to Jacksonville/Tallahassee and Panhandle)

Florida Gulf Coast Chapter (serving Tampa to Naples and inland to Lakeland)

Southeast Florida Chapter (serving Miami area to Treasure Coast)

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