It's rare to get any good news associated with reports of Alzheimer's disease, but neuroscientists have just released word that one drug is dramatically reducing symptoms. It seems to do this by dissolving a protein that builds up in the brain — and it manages to create major improvements within days.
Alzheimer's, a progressive disease that causes the sufferer to descend into dementia long before they die, is one of the most feared diagnoses in Western medicine. It's a heartbreaking sickness, and there has been a decades-long, international push to find cures, or at least treatments for it, without much success. Which is why a new, or rather old, drug treatment's results are so encouraging.
Amyloids are insoluble strands of protein that the body naturally produces and just as naturally clears from organs. Alzheimer's occurs when areas of the brain are unable to clear away these proteins, leading to build up in vital areas of the brain. Patients experience a slow cognitive decline including memory loss, loss of ability to perform normal functions, and eventual death. Over five million Americans suffer from the disease, and there are millions more patients world-wide.
A researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Gary Landreth, noticed that a cholesterol carrier called Apolipoprotein E helped clear amyloid structures from the brain. He also knew that bexarotene, a drug meant to fight cancer, helped stimulate production of Apolipoprotein E. He experimented with lab mice and found that amyloid levels were affected within six hours, and the effect lasted for three days.
Mice who have Alzheimer's lose the ability to build nests for themselves, even when presented with the materials. Scientists believe that this is because they lose the understanding, and the memory, that these materials allow them to build nests for their own comfort. Soon after treatment, mice with Alzheimer's began nesting again. Their overall drop in symptoms was estimated at about seventy-five percent.
Landreth stressed that there were still steps to be taken before use of the drug could be widespread.
"This is a particularly exciting and rewarding study because of the new science we have discovered and the potential promise of a therapy for Alzheimer's disease. We need to be clear; the drug works quite well in mouse models of the disease. Our next objective is to ascertain if it acts similarly in humans. We are at an early stage in translating this basic science discovery into a treatment."
Still, this is good news in an area that rarely sees such a thing. Here's hoping that humans will benefit from the drug as dramatically as mice do, and that ongoing progress in treating Alzheimer's will be made.
Top Image: Ams Vans