Drug 'can reverse Alzheimer's symptoms in minutes'
January 10, 2008
A drug used for arthritis can reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's "in minutes".
It appears to tackle one of the main features of the disease - inflammation in the brain.
The drug, called Enbrel, is injected into the spine where it blocks a chemical responsible for damaging the brain and other organs.
A pilot study carried out by U.S. researchers found one patient had his symptoms reversed "in minutes". Other patients have shown some improvements in symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion after weekly injections over six months.
The study of 15 patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation by online publishers Biomed Central.
The experiment showed that Enbrel can deactivate TNF (tumour necrosis factor) - a chemical in the fluid surrounding the brain that is found in Alzheimer's sufferers.
When used by arthritis sufferers, the drug is self-administered by injection and researchers had to develop a way of injecting it into the spine to affect the brain cells.
Sue Griffin, a researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said: 'It is unprecedented to see cognitive and behavioural improvement in a patient with established dementia within minutes of therapeutic intervention.
'This gives all of us in Alzheimer research a tremendous new clue about new avenues of research.' Enbrel is not approved for treating Alzheimer's in the U.S. or the UK and is regarded as highly experimental, said Dr Griffin.
'Even though this report predominantly discusses a single patient it is of significant scientific interest because of the potential insight it may give into the processes involved in the brain dysfunction of Alzheimer's,' she added.
Lead author of the study Edward Tobinick, of the University of California and Director of the Institute for Neurological Research, said the drug had 'a very rapid effect that's never been reported in a human being before'.
He added: 'It makes practical changes that are significant and perceptible, making a difference to his daily living.
'Some patients have been able to start driving again. They don't come back to normal but the change is good enough for patients to want to continue treatment.'
He said top-up injections were necessary but some patients had them a month apart.
Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 700,000 Britons with about 500 cases diagnosed every day.
Neil Hunt, of the Alzheimer's Society charity, said: 'The pursuit of a miracle cure for Alzheimer's continues to drive research into a variety of potential treatment targets. These include a possible link between inflammatory reactions in the brain and Alzheimer's.'
Children exposed to lead in old paint, Victorian pipes and toys could be at risk of Alzheimer's later in life, scientists said yesterday.
A study shows that even small amounts of the metal in the first few years can build up plaques around the brain.
Scientists at the University of Rhode Island told the New Scientist that they fed infant formula milk laced with low doses of lead to baby monkeys, then followed their progress for 23 years. A post mortem of the brains revealed plaques - harmful deposits of protein found in Alzheimer's patients.