If you think the dismaying failure of hundreds of experimental drugs for Alzheimer’s disease is kick-starting efforts to find very different approaches — flickering LEDs, anyone? — you’re right. Or half right. The 100-plus studies at this week’s 9th Annual International Conference on Clinical Trials for Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD) in San Diego all reflect work that began years ago, but with the conventional strategies of removing amyloid or tau from patients’ brains going down in flames, novel ideas are getting a more serious look.

Several companies are zeroing in on the essence of Alzheimer’s: not amyloid plaques at the synapses between neurons, not tau tangles within neurons, but the destruction of synapses and the death of neurons, which are the fundamental causes of dementia.

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