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Jan 2017_2 AARP

You may have heard in the news that yet another Alzheimer’s drug has failed to show efficacy in a large clinical trial.  Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced last month that their drug Solanezumab had failed its second trial.

What do these drug failures mean?  They may mean that our current hypothesis “the amyloid theory” (the notion that the accumulation of a sticky protein in the brain, called amyloid beta, is the reason for progressive neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease) is false.

It may also mean that by the time test drugs are administered to participants in clinical trials, the brain damage is already too extensive to heal.  To test this idea, at least three large trials are underway giving anti-amyloid drugs to younger, cognitively normal patients, who are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  These trials are in the early stages, and the results will be extremely informative regardless of success or failure.

Should you consider joining a clinical trial? It is a very personal choice, and perhaps only those at highest genetic risk should consider it, since risks and efficacy of study-related drugs may be unknown. People with a family history of Alzheimer’s sometimes choose genetic testing to understand their genetic risks, which can inform decisions regarding whether to join a clinical trial.

But, there are safe and well-researched non-pharmacological treatments that have shown strong efficacy in clinical trials in dramatically reducing risk for Alzheimer’s disease. And, you can begin them today.  These “treatments” include eating a Mediterranean diet (improves cognition over time), getting 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 3 times a week (stimulates brain growth) and achieving 6-8 hours of restorative sleep per night (washes the brain of dead cellular debris).  These lifestyle modifications have proven efficacy, are safe to do (but always check with your doctor before starting a new diet or exercise routine) and they are free.

Wishing you and yours a safe and brain-healthy 2017!

Dr. Smita Patel


Dr. Smita Patel, DO, is a neurologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem, and an integral part of NorthShore’s Center for Brain Health. Dr. Patel brings expertise in neurology and sleep along with a proficiency in complementary and integrative medicine to develop tailored health plans for her clients. She is board certified in Neurology and Sleep Medicine. Dr. Patel has participated in clinical research studies in the area of sleep medicine and has written book chapters for several academic publications on neurological disorders. She has a strong interest in researching the cause and treatment of neurological diseases as well as supporting and participating in educational programs. Dr. Patel is part of the integrated team at the Center for Brain Health at NorthShore Neurological Institute, working with patients to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders, and to improve brain health. For more information, please visit  NorthShore Center for Brain Health.

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