What did those Alzheimer’s researchers lie about?

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What did those Alzheimer’s researchers lie about?

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Basically, it looks like they changed evidence to fit their theories, rather than find evidence to support their theories. And wouldn’t you know it, it has a lot to do with stock market influence.

Long story short – Researchers in the early 1990s edited images of Alzheimer’s patients brain scans. There was a suspicion at the time something called an “amyloid plaque” was forming in the brains of patients and that the presence and quantity of amyloid plaques was a factor in Alzheimer’s disease. These researched essentially photoshopped amyloid plaques into the images of patient brains to suggest they found proof of this suspicion.

In the intervening 30 years therapies and treatments targeting amyloid plaques (which are real things, in case that’s not clear) assuming that their removal would cure Alzheimer’s. 30 years of research on these treatments suggested that there was no benefit. That created an obvious confusion, how can removing the things we think cause Alzheimer’s not improve people’s medical outcomes?

That’s what led people to reexamine the original study and uncover the lies.

There’s a lot of wild and exaggerated speculation flying around right now. For a more reasonable summary of the whole situation, [this article](https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/08/have-scientists-been-wrong-about-alzheimers-for-decades.html) does a fairly solid job (the title is very click-bait, but the article itself is reasonable).

Briefly – there’s evidence that some images in a highly cited 2006 paper may have been fabricated; this paper helped establish the connection between Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the amyloid-beta protein (aβ). Because of this, some people have been questioning whether aβ really matters at all. However, even if we ignore that 2006 paper, there’s been numerous subsequent studies that have definitely established the connection with aβ (though the exact pathophysiological pathways of aβ, and whether aβ is a causal mechanism or simply a marker of disease, are still heavily debated).

Alzheimer’s is a relatively well-known disease and we still are far from any really successful treatment. So when this news came out, there were a lot of knee-jerk reactions that the past two decades of research is based on lies or misconceptions, but that’s not accurate. It just turns out that these kinds of neurodegenerative diseases (AD, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, etc.) are a very difficult nut to crack.

I assume you’re talking about the FDA approval of the clinical research drug called aducanumab (Aduhelm).

In clinical trials, aducanumab reduced visible plaque in the brain, which is considered a ‘surrogate outcome’ or a test result with no real patient benefit.

In other words, Aducanumab did not actually have a noticeable effect on Alzheimer’s patient outcomes, but the drug was incorrectly touted by Biogen and Big Pharma as the future of Alzheimer’s disease treatment.

The thing is, my previous boss (pharmacist) told me that the drug could be potentially helpful for those who have very early onset of Alzheimer’s or other related dementia, but unfortunately it has no current scientific basis to have received FDA approval so quickly.

It seems like the FDA received incredible pressure to follow through with the passage of this drug when it shows marginal (if any) effect in patients. Very misleading all across the board.

The researchers used a photo enhancement program on pictures called “western blots”, which are a way of looking at what proteins are in a sample of material (in this case, brains). This would be perfectly OK, if they mentioned that they did it, but they didn’t. The result was that the pictures gave a false impression of how much of a particular protein was in the samples. Whether they meant to deceive people, or were just sloppy in the way that they handled the data is a something that people are looking into.

What does it mean? Well, in the end, probably not so much. The impression that the paper gave was that there was a lot of a protein called beta amyloid in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and none in those without. This is actually true and supported by other studies; it’s just that this paper over-emphasized just how much. Many people feel that this influenced people to spend more time on studying beta amyloid and less on other proteins involved than they should have. While there might be some truth to that, the fact of the matter is that beta amyloid clumps (plaques) in Alzheimer’s brains are very real and very visible, so researchers were never going to ignore them.

To say that the situation made 30 years of Alzheimer’s research irrelevant is just dumb.

Nonetheless, it’s a very serious thing when a scientific paper misleads (perhaps intentionally), and it’s a black eye for the process of peer review that didn’t catch it (though, it probably couldn’t have been caught with tools of the day).