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New IV drug may help early Alzheimer's detection

November 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease. That equals the same amount of people living in the entire state of Minnesota.

Currently there is no cure. But the latest research involves new intravenous drugs that attack plaque in the brain.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is difficult. Unfortunately few drugs are being tested to slow its progression. But one new research effort targets the abnormal plaque buildup in the brain through a drug that's given intravenously.

"Most of the antibodies that are being studied right now will attack certain proteins before they're allowed to accumulate and form plaques," said Dr. Michael Biunno, Louisian Research Associates.

Alzheimer's disease is caused by abnormal proteins in the brain. These new meds are antibodies that attack the proteins that cause plaque buildup.

The infusion is performed once a month for a year. Doctors believe it could attack the abnormal proteins even before they reach the brain.

Stopping this disease is critical: Deaths from Alzheimer's increased 66 percent in the last decade, while deaths from breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, stroke and HIV all decreased.

Diagnosing Alzheimer's early is key to successful treatment. A way to see Alzheimer's years before the brain is damaged has been developed. Doctors inject an imaging compound called AV-45 into patients.

PET scans then reveal normal brains and brains full of amyloid plaques.

From diagnosis to treatment, the two breakthroughs could impact almost all of us, sooner or later.

"This could be a game-changer," said Biunno.

In another recent discovery, a team of researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center found 10 genes that account for half of the genetic risk for Alzheimer's. They hope identifying patients with these genes could mean earlier treatments.


BACKGROUND: Alzheimer's disease is a disorder in which nerve cells (neurons) in your brain degenerate and eventually die. As your nerve cells lose function, you'll experience a steady loss of memory and other thinking abilities (cognitive skills) and gradually lose your independence. Alzheimer's disease can't be cured, but doctors can help you manage your condition.

NEW TREATMENTS: Some of the new Alzheimer's treatments furthest along in development target plaques, microscopic clumps of the protein beta-amyloid. Plaques have long been considered an Alzheimer's disease hallmark. Two strategies aimed at beta-amyloid include immunizing the body against it and blocking its production.

A vital brain cell transport system collapses when a protein called tau twists into microscopic fibers called tangles, another hallmark brain abnormality of Alzheimer's. Keeping tau from forming tangles offers another potential drug target. One medication currently under investigation is taken as a nasal spray.

Alzheimer's causes chronic, low-level brain cell inflammation. Based on success in treating inflammation elsewhere in the body, researchers are attempting to develop drugs that zero in on specific inflammatory processes at work in Alzheimer's disease.

Growing evidence suggests that brain health is closely linked to heart and blood vessel health. The brain is nourished by arteries. The risk of developing Alzheimer's appears to increase as a result of many conditions that damage the heart or arteries. In addition, the strongest known genetic Alzheimer's risk factor is one form of a gene for apolipoprotein E, a protein that carries cholesterol in the blood. A number of studies are exploring how best to capitalize on this heart-head connection.

LOUISIANA RESEARCH ASSOCIATES: Currently, they are conducting several different trials for Alzheimer's disease. In general, trials are open to individuals 50 years and older who suffer from mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Each candidate must be able to swallow oral medication, have a consistent care taker, and live in assisted living, not nursing homes. Duration of trials vary from 18 months to two years. Safety and efficiency of new medications form the focus of the trials. If any eligible subject has not had a CT scan of the brain performed over the last two years, then one will be provided. All eligible will be paid for their time travel (http://www.lrainc.net).

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