Snuffing Out Alzheimer’s

confusedHot on the heels of Friday’s blog – Sniffing Out Alzheimer’s, British scientists just announced a major breakthrough that could, one day, result in a treatment for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

In tests on mice, researchers from the toxicology unit of the Medical Research Council showed brain cell death from prion disease could be prevented.

Professor Roger Morris, from King’s College London, said: “This finding, I suspect, will be judged by history as a turning point in the search for medicines to control and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

It is rare to get cautious scientists keen to describe any study as a turning point in history, let alone a study in mice.

miceNot only is it is early science, a lot can go wrong between a drug for mice and a drug for humans and the only published data is for prion disease, not even Alzheimer’s.

So why the excitement?

It is the first time that any form of neurodegeneration has been completely halted, so it is a significant landmark. It shows that the process being targeted has serious potential.

The research team focused on the natural defense mechanisms built into brain cells. When a virus hijacks a brain cell it leads to a build-up of viral proteins. Cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus’s spread.

neurodegenerative diseaseHowever, many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of faulty or “misfolded” proteins. These activate the same defenses, but with more severe consequences. The misfolded proteins linger and the brain cells shut down protein production for so long that they eventually starve themselves to death.

This process, repeated in neurons throughout the brain, can destroy movement or memory or even kill, depending on the disease.  It  is thought to take place in many forms of neurodegeneration, so safely disrupting it could treat a wide range of diseases.

The researchers used a compound which prevented those defense mechanisms kicking in and in turn halted neurodegeneration.

The study showed mice with prion disease developed severe memory and movement problems. They died within 12 weeks. However, those given the compound showed no sign of brain tissue wasting away.

Lead researcher Professor Giovanna Mallucci says: “They were absolutely fine, it was extraordinary. What’s really exciting is a compound has completely prevented neurodegeneration and that’s a first. This isn’t the compound you would use in people, but it means we can do it and it’s a start.

She said the compound offered a “new pathway that may well give protective drugs” and the next step was for drug companies to develop a medicine for use in humans.

Side effects are an issue. The compound also acted on the pancreas, meaning the mice developed a mild form of diabetes and lost weight. Any human drug would need to act only on the brain.

David Allsop, professor of neuroscience at Lancaster University described the results as “very dramatic and highly encouraging.”

SRxA’s Word on Health agrees.  We look forward to seeing further research and how these findings could apply to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

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Pumped Up about Promising new Parkinson’s Pump

parkinson-disease60Parkinson’s disease, as many of our readers know is a chronic, progressive neurological disease that causes sufferers to lose control of body movements, resulting in tremors, muscle stiffness, loss of balance and a host of other problems. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and treatment options are limited. Therapy is directed at treating the symptoms that are most bothersome and for this reason, there is no standard or “best” treatment for that applies to every patient.

Treatment approaches include medications and surgery (deep brain stimulation) as well as general lifestyle modifications (rest and exercise), physical, occupational and speech therapy.

levodopaAmong the drug-related therapies, levodopa is considered one of the most effective for relieving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It helps reduce tremor, stiffness, and slowness and helps improve muscle control, balance, and walking. Levodopa does not slow the disease process, but it improves muscle movement and delays severe disability. So far, levodopa, which had been used to treat Parkinson’s since the 1970’s, has only been available in pill form.

But a new Cleveland Clinic study finds that using a pump to administer a gel form of levodopa directly into the small intestine is much more effective.

Neurologist Hubert Fernandez, MD, who led the study, says, “The levodopa pump decreased or improved what we call the ‘bad time’ in Parkinson’s patients by up to four hours per day.” The levodopa can control this ‘bad time’ — the tremors, muscle spasms and other movement disorders that makes it difficult for Parkinson’s patients to function on a daily basis.

parkinsons-gel-drug-pump-190x155This is an amazing finding,” says Fernandez. “We know of no other oral therapy that will improve the bad time in Parkinson’s by an average of four hours daily.”

The levodopa pump is external. It sits in a pouch under the patient’s shirt and provides a steady dose of the drug. The levodopa gel is administered directly into the small intestine, where most of the drug is absorbed. The constant dose makes the body’s movements more controlled and predictable, making it easier for people with the disease to plan and go about their day without worrying that the drug’s effects will wear off.

The biggest advantage of the levodopa is its efficacy,” Dr. Fernandez says. “We’re trying to deliver it on a continuous basis so the patients don’t need to take it every hour.” parkinsons gel pump

69-year-old Bob Van Housen has been living with Parkinson’s disease for over 12 years.  Prior to enrollment in the study he was having to take up to five levodopa pills every three hours to control his symptoms. Even then, his symptoms progressed to the point where it was hard to keep up.  “He was ‘off’ for at least seven hours,” said Van Housen’s wife, Carol. “Seven hours is a long time to not be able to function every day.”

The couple often had to cut their trips together short and limit their social outings outside of the house. Van Housen says that being part of the trial at Cleveland Clinic has been life-changing. “We can predict better how I’m going to feel and how I’m going to act and can plan trips and work around those times when I otherwise would have been problematic.”

The gel pump which is not yet available in the United States is currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration. Let’s hope it doesn’t hit any hurdles along the way, so others with Parkinson’s can avoid the roller-coaster of symptoms and enjoy the type of benefits that Bob has experienced.

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Out Pacing Alzheimer’s

Woman and elderly mother talking to a doctorAlzheimer’s disease is the most common form of degenerative dementia, afflicting about 5.5 million Americans and costing more than $100 billion per year. In terms of U.S. health care expenditure it now ranks as the third costliest disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is not easily managed. It becomes progressively disabling with loss of memory, cognition, worsening behavioral function and a gradual loss of independent functioning. Currently there is no cure.

Kathy SandfordBut this may be all about to change. Last October, during a five-hour surgery at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Kathy Sanford became the first Alzheimer’s patient in the United States to have a pacemaker implanted in her brain.

Could this be the dramatic shift in the disappointing struggle to find something to slow the damage of this epidemic?  As yet, no one knows if it might work, and if it does, how long the effects might last.  Research is still in its infancy.

Dr. Douglas Scharre, neurologist and director of the division of cognitive neurology, and Dr. Ali Rezai, neurosurgeon and director of the neuroscience program are jointly conducting the study.

Sanford is the first of up to 10 patients who will be enrolled in the FDA-approved study to determine if using a brain pacemaker can improve cognitive and behavioral functioning in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

brain pacemakerThe study employs the use of deep brain stimulation (DBS), the same technology used to successfully treat patients with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

First, holes are drilled into the patient’s skull so tiny pacemaker wires can be implanted into just the right spot. A battery-powered generator near her collarbone then sends tiny shocks up her neck and into her brain.

It is hoped that zapping the brain with mild jolts of electricity will make the brain work better and stave off the cognitive, behavioral and functional effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

If the early findings that we’re seeing continue to be robust and progressive, then I think that will be very promising and encouraging for us,” says Ali Rezai MD, “But so far we are cautiously optimistic.”

Kathy Sanford says she volunteered for the study to help others avoid the angst she has suffered as Alzheimer’s slowly disrupted her life.  The Ohio woman’s early stage Alzheimer’s was gradually getting worse. She still lived independently, posting reminders to herself, but no longer could work. The usual medicines weren’t helping.
Her father is proud that his daughter is participating in the study. “What’s our choice? To participate in a program or sit here and watch her slowly deteriorate?” asked Joe Jester, 78.  He drives his daughter to follow-up testing, hoping to spot improvement.

cognitive testingSince having the surgery last October Sanford has undertaken a number of problem-solving tests while neurologists adjusted the voltage and frequency and watched her reactions.

She was cheered to see her test scores climb a bit during those adjustments. While she knows there are no guarantees, she says “if we can beat some of this stuff, or at least get a leading edge on it, I’m in for the whole deal.”

Her optimism and hope is shared by her neurologist. “We’re getting tired of not having other things work” said Douglas Scharre MD.  Alzheimer’s doesn’t just steal memories. It eventually robs sufferers of the ability to do the simplest of tasks.

Here’s hoping these brain pacemakers can reconnect some of the circuits and diminish such losses.

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Sweet Protection Against Parkinson’s Disease

New research shows men and women who regularly eat berries may have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.  Men may further lower their risk by regularly eating apples, oranges and other sources rich in dietary flavonoids.

The study which was supported by the National Institutes of Health involved 49,281 men and 80,336 women. Researchers gave participants questionnaires and used a database to calculate intake amount of flavonoids. They then analyzed the association between flavonoid intakes and risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. They also analyzed consumption of five major sources of foods rich in flavonoids: tea, berries, apples, red wine and oranges or orange juice. The participants were followed for 20 to 22 years.

During that time, 805 people developed Parkinson’s disease. In men, the top 20% who consumed the most flavonoids were about 40% less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than the bottom 20% of male participants who consumed the least amount of flavonoids.

In women, there was no relationship between overall flavonoid consumption and developing Parkinson’s disease. However, when sub-classes of flavonoids were examined, regular consumption of anthocyanins, which are mainly obtained from berries, were found to be associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease in both men and women.

This is the first study in humans to examine the association between flavonoids and risk of developing Parkinson’s disease,” said study author Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, with the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Fruit consumption has also been related to health benefits in a whole range of conditions including cancer, stroke, heart disease, diverticulosis, hypertension, cataracts, diabetes, asthma, and bronchitis.

Do you have any fruity stories to share?  SRxA’s Word on Health would love to hear from you.

Homeopathy gets a Nobel nod

Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French virologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the AIDS virus, has surprised the scientific community with his strong support for homeopathic medicine.

In a remarkable interview published in Science magazine, Professor Montagnier expressed support for the often maligned and misunderstood medical specialty of homeopathic medicine. Although homeopathy has been around for >200 years, most conventional physicians and scientists have expressed skepticism about its efficacy due to the extremely small and highly diluted doses of medicines used.

Montagnier disagrees. “I can’t say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the high dilutions (used in homeopathy) are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules.”

His experimental research confirms that even after sequential dilution, electromagnetic signals of the original medicine remains in the water and can have dramatic biological effects.

Montagnier has just taken a new position at Jiaotong University in Shanghai, China where his work will focus on the phenomenon of electromagnetic waves produced by DNA in water. He and his team will study both the theoretical basis and the possible applications in medicine.

He is confident  that these new observations will lead to novel treatments for many common chronic diseases, including but not limited to autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

In the Science magazine interview Montagnier also expressed real concern about the unscientific atmosphere that presently exists on certain unconventional subjects such as homeopathy. When asked if he is concerned that he is drifting into pseudoscience, he replied adamantly: “No, because it’s not pseudoscience. It’s not quackery. These are real phenomena which deserve further study.”

This is in stark contrast to the recent statement from the British Medical Association who referred to homeopathy as “witchcraft.”

So, who’s right?  SRxA’s Word on Health wonders if it’s the case that when one goes on a witch hunt, one inevitably finds “witches!”

Let us know what you think.