Brain disease

What's new in the quest for Alzheimer's drugs

Adapted from a PhRMA analysis of the Adis R&D Insight database on investigational drugs in various stages of clinical development; Chart: Axios Visuals

Gradually losing memories in a tangle of errant proteins and dying brain neurons from Alzheimer's disease strikes fear into many. Time after time, drug companies have struck out in trials looking to prevent or even slow the debilitating disease and are turning to fundamentally different approaches, or altogether abandoning their efforts.

Why it matters: There are currently 5.7 million Americans living with the disease — and 14 million more are expected to develop it by 2050 — all of whom are desperately seeking answers.

New device translates brain activity into speech, but with limits

Photo of the electrodes that could be implanted on surface of brain
The type of intracranial electrodes used to record brain activity in this study. Photo: UCSF

Scientists have developed a tool that decodes brain signals for the speech-related movements of the jaw, larynx, lips and tongue and synthesizes the signals into computerized speech, according to a small study published in Nature on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Researchers want to help people who've lost their ability to speak, with many current methods translating eye or facial muscle movements into letter-by-letter spelling — but this takes a long time and doesn't sound like fluid speech. This study shows the early stages of a new and faster way of "speaking" in full sentences but also comes with its own caveats, like the need to place electrodes directly on the brain.