July 5, 2005
A new drug, an immune system booster, and a medication used to treat diabetes showed promise in stemming the decline of Alzheimer's disease, several small studies presented at a conference in Washington, D.C. suggest. Although it will require several years of additional testing in many more people, the findings point to the importance of ongoing and emerging research in the search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease.
In one study, researchers at the University of Bristol in England tested an experimental drug called Flurizan in 207 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Half the study participants got the medication, while the others received a look-alike placebo . The drug is a revamped version of an older painkiller called flurbiprofen that has been shown to lower levels of a particularly toxic form of beta-amyloid, a substance that builds up in the brains of those with Alzheimer's.
After a year, those men and women who had the highest doses of Flurizan in their bloodstream were, as a group, better able to carry out daily tasks. On tests that measure memory and reasoning, however, they did not show any significant improvements compared to those taking a placebo.
In a second study, investigators at The Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City gave injections of an immune system booster called immune globulin to eight people with Alzheimer's. The drug contains a cocktail of proteins called antibodies that, researchers hope, may help mop up excess beta-amyloid in brains affected by the disease. The researchers found that the injections reduced the amount of beta-amyloid circulating in brain fluids. Preliminary tests also suggested some improvement in mental reasoning and memory, although the researchers stress that the study was much too small to draw firm conclusions about the potential effectiveness of this treatment approach.
In a third study, researchers at the University of Washington and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Medical Center in Seattle tested a nasal spray containing insulin, the hormone that helps keep blood sugar levels in check in people with diabetes, in 26 people with Alzheimer's. Some researchers suspect that insulin may boost brain cell function, and that some people with Alzheimer's may be lacking in the hormone. The insulin nasal spray improved memory and recall in about half those who received it.
Larger studies of these and other therapies are planned. At this stage, it is far too early to recommend any of these medicines as a treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Research on large groups of people needs to be done to determine if they are truly effective and safe.
The findings, though, underline the importance of continued support and funding for new Alzheimer's treatments. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation plays a key role in working toward a cure for the devastating disease. Your contributions go directly to fund critical scientific and clinical research that improves life for those afflicted with Alzheimer's and those who care for them. For more on how you can help and how the Fisher Center is reaching out, visit www.ALZinfo.org.
Alzheimer's Association, International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia, June 20, Washington, D.C.