More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, an illness first discovered more than 100 years ago. Now researchers say that there is a possible breakthrough in the battle against the debilitating disease.
At the University of Texas Health Science Center's Barshop Institute For Longevity and Aging Studies, they're studying fruit fly brains to learn more about the human brain. Researchers hope that this will unlock the keys to Alzheimer's.
Much of the research is done using an entire fly brain, which is divided into 80 sections.
"You will get part of the mouth, back of the head. We are not really interested in that. We are primarily interested in the brain," graduate research assistant Adrian Beckmann said.
Alzheimer's aims for the brain, which is also the target of many drugs trying to battle the disease. Now, researchers hope that this new breakthrough drug called Aducanumab is able to hit the disease early enough to stop its progression.
"We currently have four drugs that are used to treat Alzheimer's disease, three of them are in the same class and one of them is in another class for end-stage Alzheimer's disease," said Bess Frost, an assistant professor at the Barshop Institute.
The problem, all of those hit the disease too late, when plaques and tangles have already decimated the human brain.
"None of them target the underlying cause of the disease which is a great feature of this drug," Frost said.
The testing is in its third phase with more than 1100 patients and will determine if the drug can halt the loss of cognition. That loss is also being battled right here in San Antonio with the genetically modified flies.
"We really need ways to diagnose Alzheimer's disease early before the onset of symptoms and that's when drugs like this are going to really be the most powerful," Frost said.