For our next installment of our “5 on Fridays” series, we spoke with neuroscientist Sara Manning Peskin about her thoughts on breakthrough Alzheimer’s treatments, the book she can’t tear herself away from, and what she’s changed her mind about in science.
You can also watch our recent Chat with Dr. Peskin on our YouTube channel here.
1. What are you optimistic about?
Finding treatments for common cognitive ailments.
Just in the last few years, we now have disease-modifying therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, multiple drug treatment trials for frontotemporal dementia, and diagnostic testing for Lewy Body disease that is nearly ready for widespread use.
2. What are you reading or watching right now?
I’m reading Abraham Verghese’ new book, The Covenant of Water.
I loved Cutting for Stone, and this book is likewise written so beautifully that half the time I don’t even care what Verghese is writing about. I’m jealous of the way he puts words together.
3. What do you hope to see change in science in your lifetime?
I hope we can prevent dementia. This would require two things:
First, we need to develop screening tools that catch the earliest, molecular signs of disease.
We also need to develop drugs that stop progression, without causing significant side effects.
4. What’s your favorite scientific breakthrough of the last 5 years?
Anti-amyloid therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. After two decades without any new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, we can now give patients a medication that slows cognitive decline by about 25%.
The drug isn’t for everyone, but from a scientific perspective it’s an incredible step forward.
5. What have you changed your mind about?
Aducanumab. This was an Alzheimer’s disease drug that was used in a massive clinical trial that was stopped mid-way due to purported futility. The authors subsequently reanalyzed the data and claimed that the drug was effective, but the statistics were so fraught that most of us in the field didn’t really trust it.
Since then, we’ve had two other similar drugs that were shown to slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease. So in retrospect, Aducanumab probably was effective—we just didn’t realize it at the time.
Purchase Dr. Peskin’s book, A Molecule Away From Madness: Tales of the Hijacked Brain.