A Million Ways Not To: Remaining Hopeful in Finding a Cure

Scientists can be some of the most rewarding people to speak to. I know, as a community bonded together by our shared suffering at the hands of a disease for which there is no cure and minimal means to stop its progression, that might be a tough pill to swallow, but hear me out!

When studying Alzheimer's disease and other life-threatening illnesses, even the smallest piece of data can shed light on a possible cure, even if that data tells us that this is not the way to solve the problem. Thomas Edison is often attributed to the quote, "I have not failed. I've just 10,000 ways that won't work."

For years we have been hypothesizing the mechanism of action and cause of Alzheimer's disease and scientists have been working their way toward identifying the coveted means of stopping it. A recent paper in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience tells us a great deal about the research to date.

Where we have been: Hope in the process

The paper details a text audit of more than 200,000 summaries of dementia publications. It identified the biological pathways that have been studied in relation to Alzheimer's to find that it is 91 percent of them. That's quite a haystack in which to find a needle!1

When upping the number of studies in which a biologic pathway is discussed to more than 50, 63 percent of the identified pathways are targeted. We're getting warmer.1

As the authors winnowed this down, they found that, for the last 30 years the same set of top-ranked pathways have consistently been the target of studies related to Alzheimer's disease: immune system, metabolic pathways, cholinergic synapse, long-term depression, proteasome, diabetes, cancer, and chemokine signaling.1

It is worth noting that not all of those pathways make sense to me, and if you're with me, that's okay — we're not scientists. However, the numbers do a lot of telling.

Where we can go: Finding a cure for this disease

The authors succinctly put it: "As a consequence of our study, research results can now be assessed in the context of the wider [Alzheimer's disease] literature, supporting the design of drug therapies that target a broader range of mechanisms."1

As a member of this community, I'm ready for there to be some new information, some change that can be implied or outright called to as a result of scientific, fact-based research. Too often I see basic correlations and take-aways not based on literature or fact surmised in a one-sentence Instagram quote or newsletter description and individuals taking it as fact.

Arguably, we are all looking for these small steps and correlations we can hang on to and try in the event that it materializes into tangible benefits for us and our loved ones. We're willing to try anything as we're that starved for a cure. But, it would seem to me, from a laymen's point of view, we have arrived at the same place as Edison with this handful of pathways: having found "10,000 ways that won't work."

Perhaps this research will allow scientists currently working for and testing toward a cure to more appreciate the complex nature of the disease and consider other pathways outside of the dominant half dozen or so that continue to get all the hype. As stated, we're not asking for much, just a consistent and constant striving toward ending one of the deadliest diseases currently out there. Please.

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