Alzheimer’s research focuses on links to sleep and other behaviours

Brain image with scientist, stairs and torch highlighting alzheimer’s research is increasingly focused on links to sleep and other behaviors

Alzheimer’s research is increasingly focused on links to sleep and other behaviors according to a new report released by Elsevier.

To coincide with World Alzheimer’s Month, Elsevier analysed Alzheimer’s research published since the 1970s offering a comprehensive view of the landscape of Alzheimer’s research worldwide for the past 50 years.

The study reveals that behavioral topics such as sleep are important and emerging for Alzheimer’s research; scientists exploring this connection are developing new theories on the early warning signs of this disease, which could help interrupt its progression. The prominence of research on the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s is growing alongside interest in dominant topics such as the amyloid-β protein. Other prominent behavioral research topics include learning and gait.

In July, research was published into the relationship between sleep medication and dementia.

Findings also show that among the research that mentions sex or gender terms for human subjects, the number of publications mentioning a single sex has a small discrepancy – 30% mention males exclusively; 26% mention females exclusively; and 44% of studies on humans mention both sexes.

In contrast, based on animal models, more Alzheimer’s research is conducted using male subjects rather than female subjects: male subjects were included in 87% of the studies and used exclusively in 62%; whereas female subjects were included in only 37% of the studies and used exclusively in just 14%.

The report also identified two main clusters of Alzheimer’s research: one related to the molecular mechanisms involved in generating toxic entities in cells; and the other related to research with human subjects, specifically, clinical research, epidemiology and population health research. These two clusters are not linked by any terms, which suggests there are no major bodies of research connecting this basic science and research involving humans at this time.

Other findings highlighted in the report:

  • The United States is the top producer of Alzheimer’s disease research, with 16,238 published articles. This is more than double the output of the second highest contributor, China.
  • Sweden is the top country for Alzheimer’s disease research in terms of its relative activity i.e. based on the size of its portfolio compared with global averages, reflecting the high priority of this research in countries where the lifespan is longer and Alzheimer’s has more impact.
  • The percentage of academic-corporate collaboration in the UK, Germany and France also exceeds that seen in the US.
  • Research on the disease represents 0.35-0.4% of all research done globally in the past five years (2013-2018), with 50,614 items published in this period.

“It is particularly interesting to see that the field is quite split into two separate fields with few mechanistic studies utilising human subjects. I think this is probably changing with MRI of living patients and brain tissue use (electron microscopy examination of post mortem brain),” said Louise Serpell, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Sussex. “The use of pluripotent stem cells may help to bridge the gap between living human studies and biochemical and neuroscience mechanistic studies.”

Data in the report comes from Elsevier’s Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer reviewed literature.