Alzheimer’s Disease could be reversed by rheumatoid arthritis protein

SRxA’s Word on Health is encouraged to learn that scientists have discovered that a chemical normally produced by the body to fight arthritis, could also reverse the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Although it’s already known that people with rheumatoid arthritis, have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, until recently, most experts assumed this was due to the anti-inflammatory drugs given to treat the disease.

Now, researchers at the University of South Florida have found that a protein, triggered by rheumatoid arthritis, can undo the ‘tangles‘ in the brain that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s.

While people with rheumatoid arthritis are subjected to swollen joints and decreased mobility, the protein produced by the disease stimulates scavenger cells in the body.

The new study, published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that the protein, GM-CSF, could both reverse the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s and lower the risk of getting the illness.  In some cases the memory impairment was completely undone after treatment.

The placebo-controlled tests in mice, showed that those treated with GM-CSF had >50% decrease in beta amyloid, the hallmark substance of Alzheimer’s disease. They also showed more microglia – specialized immune cells which remove toxic substances, in the treated animals. In contrast Alzheimer’s mice injected with the placebo salt solution continued to do badly in the tests.

We were pretty amazed that the treatment completely reversed cognitive impairment in 20 days,” said Dr Tim Boyd, the scientist who led the study.

What makes these results especially noteworthy is that the protein is not experimental.  A synthetic form of this naturally occurring protein is already commercially available under the brand name Leukine (sargramostim).  Leukine is a recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (rhu GM-CSF) manufactured by Genzyme.  While not indicated for use in Alzheimer’s, it has been approved by the FDA to reduce the incidence of severe and life-threatening infections in some chemotherapy patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Leukine is also used in multiple stem cell transplantation settings.

Our study, along with the drugs track record for safety, suggests Leukine should be tested in humans as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease” commented Prof Huntingdon Potter, a molecular medicine expert involved in the study.

While we recognize that rarely a day goes by without news of some new “breakthrough” for the estimated 35 million people worldwide who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, your Word on Health team hopes that this latest research brings the promise of a cure or treatment even closer.