Ninety medications in development to treat Alzheimer’s, dementias

July 24, 2010

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association shares some encouraging news with its report on medicines to treat mental illnesses. Ninety drugs are in various phases of research to treat dementias, including one that is designed to remove beta amyloid protein from the brain and prevent or reverse progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

I count 11 drugs in what is called “Phase 3″ trials, the final step toward approval and licensing of a new drug.

So, progress is underway.


Read news from Honolulu at the Alzheimer’s conference

July 13, 2010

If you couldn’t make it to Honolulu, (darn! me neither!) you can still stay up-to-date with what is happeneing at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease by reading the daily news releases. The web address is www.alz.org/icad.


Scientists study jellyfish for ways to preserve cognition in Alzheimer’s and other dementias

July 13, 2010

A biotech company in Madison, Wisconsin believes a protein from a jellyfish (with the scientific name, Aequorea victoria) can improve cognitive function in people with memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Quincy Bioscience representatives are at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease this week in Honolulu, presenting interim data that demonstrates the jellyfish protein improved cognitive testing scores by 14 percent in 60 days compared to placebo in the randomized controlled “Madison Memory Study,” which enrolled adults who had a memory concern. The average age in the study cohort of 35 people was 61 years old.

Why the jellyfish?

Partly because of its simplicity. “If you strip down all of the higher functions of thought from the human brain, you really end up with a very simple nervous system…as simple as the jellyfish,” says the Quincy website. Scientists have been studying the design of the jellyfish to understand how it might protect brain cells. Jellyfish make use of apoaequorin to sequester extra calcium ions, which are thought to be protective against neurodegeneration.

In diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,  calcium-binding proteins decrease and lead to brain cell death, or neurodegeneration. Scientists believe that by managing calcium levels in the cells, they can slow the aging process and preserve some quality of life.


Apple juice found helpful for those with Alzheimer’s disease

June 22, 2010

Behavioral and psychotic symptoms related to dementia seem to improve when people with moderate-to-late stage Alzheimer’s disease regularly drink apple juice.

That’s what researchers from the University of Massachusetts found in a study published in the June 2010 issue of American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

For their study, the researchers assigned 21 individuals with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease to drink a 4-oz glass of apple juice twice a day for one month.

Though caregivers reported reduction in anxiety, agitation and delusion, the individuals with dementia showed no changes in the Dementia Rating Scale.

Previous studies have suggested that apple juice may provide health benefits including reduction of central nervous system oxidative damage, suppression of Alzhiemer’s symptoms, improved cognitive performance and more organized synaptic signaling. Thomas Shea says other researchers have shown similar effects with blueberries. “We have also shown similar effects with purified vitamins and nutriceuticals.” Shea is professor of biological sciences and Director of the Center for Cellular Neurobiology & Neurodegeneration Research at Massachusetts.

Would apple juice be helpful in people with other dementias?

“We saw in mice that apple juice boosted neurotransmitter production, so it might help us all with mood, and the major effect would be seen on those individuals, disease or not, that had behavioral issues,” he says. “However, it is certainly worth a try.”

Shea says he would like to compare apple juice with apple cider in another study because “cider has the potential benefit of being fresher, and less processed.”

Read the article from FoodConsumer.

Read the abstract from the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias.


Locating genes for clues to Alzheimer’s risk, cause, diagnosis

June 15, 2010

Neuroscientists have zeroed in on some target genes that may be tied to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and they’ve shown what abnormalities appear on brain scans of people with these genetic variations.

Both bits of scientific progress are incremental steps toward understanding what causes the disease that afflicts more than 5 millon Americans. The study, lead by researchers in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., England and Wales, appears in this month’s Archives of Neurology.

“The drought of genetic findings in Alzheimer’s disease has lasted a long time,” write scientists based in London and Wales in an editorial accompanying the Archives study. “These findings, and the genome-wide studies that presaged them, mark a new period of optimism for those of us who study the etiologies of complex diseases of the nervous system.”

The study explains the association researchers made between genetic loci that are related to Alzheimer’s disease and neuorimaging measures that are related to disease risk. (These measures include the volume of the hippocampus, amygdala and other brain structures.) They identify B1N1 and CNTN5 as additional specific locations of genetic variants on chromosomes, but say their findings warrant further study.

Just one genetic variant, known as APOE, has been shown to influence Alzheiemer’s disease risk and age at onset, lead authors Drs. Alessandro Biffi and Christopher Anderson write in their background information.

Study participants included 168 people with probable Alzheimer’s, 357 people with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s, and 215 people who were cognitively normal. “Our results indicate that APOE and other previously validated loci for Alzheimer’s disease affect clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and neuroimaging measures associated with the disease,” they write.

Will that bring us closer to genetic tests for Alzheimer’s?

Somewhat, John Hardy, of the University College London Institute of Neurology, says in an email, “but I think this genetic determinism argument is oversold, frankly.

“About 5 percent of the population are at high risk. About 30 percent of the population are at a moderate risk, and about 65 percent are at lower risk. These numbers are little changed by the new data. And, this is not really so useful for genetic testing.”

Read the study in the Archives of Neurology.

The National Institute on Aging’s fact sheet on Alzheimer’s disease genetics.


National study underway: Can Gammagard preserve thinking abilities?

May 4, 2010

A national study is underway to determine if a drug used to treat immune deficiency and autoimmune disorders, Gammagard, can preserve thinking abilities in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Gammagard is made from human plasma and delivered through an intravenous infusion. It contains antibodies against beta-amyloid, which make up the plaques that develop in the brains of people with Alzheimers. A Syracuse neurologist is among the researchers participating in the GAP (Gammaglobulin Alzheimers Partnership) Study paid for by the National Institutes of Health and Baxter Healthcare Corporation, which makes Gammagard.

Find a research site near you.

To join the study, participants must have a mild to moderate Alzheimers diagnosis, be between 50 and 89 years of age and have relatively good health. You cannot enroll if you had cancer within the previous five years or if you take blood thinners.

Participants will continue to take their regular medications and will not know if they are assigned Gammagard through the study. Two thirds will receive the Gammagard infusions once every two weeks. The rest will take a placebo therapy.

After the first three infusions at an infusion center, participants will receive their infusions at their homes. The study continues for 18 months. It also involves office visits, regular blood work and five magnetic resonance imaging studies of the brain. The GAP Study pays for all costs.


Panel: no proof for ways to prevent, slow Alzheimer’s

April 30, 2010

In hopes of staving off Alzheimer’s or other dementias, we seek crosswords for mental stimulation, we make it a point to exercise, we down various supplements.

But guess what — any proof that any of it actually works is lacking.

An independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health reported that the value of these strategies at delaying the onset or reducing the severity of decline or disease hasn’t been demonstrated in rigorous studies. No evidence of even moderate scientific quality supports Alzheimer’s risk reduction through dietary supplement intake, use of prescription or non-prescription drugs, diet, exercise, or social engagement, they say.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a feared and heart-breaking disease,” Dr. Martha L. Daviglus, says in a news release. The panel’s chair, she is a professor of preventive medicine and medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago. “We wish we could tell people that taking a pill or doing a puzzle every day would prevent this terrible disease, but current evidence doesn’t support this.”

Neil Buckholtz from the National Institute on Aging told National Public Radio that “doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, those kinds of things — they’re interesting, but the evidence is not available at this point that they actually have an effect.” Evenso, many Alzheimer’s researchers say such mental exercise seems like a good idea, since it increases connections in the brain and makes the brain more resilient.

It’s certainly not going to hurt.

Now consider: do people stay mentally sharp as they age because they are physically active and socially engaged? Or are they physically active and socially engaged because they are mentally sharp? Daviglus says that’s a chicken-or-egg quandary and that such association only tells us the two things are related and not necessarily that one causes the other.

It’s the same with some other associations the panel found, between cognitive decline and diabetes, depression, and smoking.

Read the summary from the National Institutes of Health

Read the panel’s statement to the NIH.


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