Medical experts work toward developing effective brain disease treatments

Experts across disciplines collaborated Thursday to explore neurodegenerative diseases and how to treat them as part of UW’s Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s Research Day.

University of Washington Pathology Department professor and chair Thomas Montine gave the event’s keynote speech at the Discovery Building.

Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s were the fastest increasing causes of death among the “top 25” in the country between 1990 and 2005, according to a study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that Montine presented.

Montine explained the benefits of precision medication, defined as using new knowledge and technology to optimize the timing and targeting of interventions for maximal benefit.

Current medicine is based on doctors waiting for patients with a problem to come forward and then helping them with limited treatments, which work for some patients, do nothing for others and occasionally have an adverse effect, according to Montine.

“Right now, for a regenerative disease, especially those that affect cognition, the repertoire of treatments is limited,” Montine said. “It’s a bit of an over exaggeration that one size fits all, but not much of an exaggeration.”

Going forward, Montine suggests developing a comprehensive risk assessment to identify a disease before the patient is experiencing problems. This assessment would allow doctors to stratify the same sample of patients into groups with similar chemical drivers.

This grouping would allow medical professionals to better tailor treatments to match individuals.

The professor then described the various cerebral structures that cause the cognitive and motor symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

While Parkinson's was initially described as a movement disorder, the enigmatic symptoms of too much movement through tremors and too little movement from stiffness have shown it to be a mental disease.

The question becomes how to use precision medicine to treat these complex diseases.

Montine said studying the associations between genes and cerebral structures such as plaque, which were revealed by a major collaborative study in 2013 of more than 70,000 cases, tells doctors more about the disease.

Fellow researchers presented posters in the Discovery Building lobby about topics ranging from stroke rehabilitation to preventing Alzheimer’s in mice.

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