Boise State Study Looks At Failing Alzheimer's Drugs

Jan 9, 2020

In 2019, 26,000 Idahoans 65 and older were living with Alzheimer’s disease. Now, new research suggests that drugs being tested to stop that disease are not working. Some scientists say 30 years of past research on what causes the illness may be all wrong. Some of that research is coming out of Boise State University.


Plaque in the brain has long been suspected of causing the memory loss that comes with Alzheimer’s. Those plaques known as beta-amyloid are found in people who have the disease.

Researchers have spent decades developing new drugs that target and kill those plaques. But a new study by Boise State Professor Troy Rohn says those medications are still not stopping memory loss. And he says in some cases, getting rid of the plaque makes the disease worse.

“The drugs are failing and you look at a 99% failure rate, $3.5 billion spent on research and development in the last four years,” says Rohn.

Speaking on Wednesday’s Idaho Matters, Rohn says new studies point to a protein in the brain called tau that may be the real cause of cognitive decline in patients. This confusion over how to treat the illness could be devastating to the thousands of Idahoans who the Alzheimer’s Association says are living with the disease.

But Rohn says he’s still hopeful because there are roughly 60 drugs being tested now that target other aspects of the illness.

“Something’s going to come out because most of us in the field realize that this is a potential epidemic and we cannot stand pat with Alzheimer’s Disease,” says Rohn.

If it turns out that tau, not plaque, is causing Alzheimer’s dementia, Rohn says researchers will have to re-focus their efforts to stop the disease.

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