New hope for Alzheimer’s patients
December 18, 2012
Often a news report doesn’t get published in newspapers and certainly not aired on TV. That’s unfortunate because often lengthy scientific news never reaches those for whom it could give hope. I recently stumbled across a report of a new system of scanning the brain for symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease through a spinal tap. But I couldn’t find any details so will let it go with the apparent success of a new system, in early trials at this point. I’ll keep looking for more on this and let readers know what I find.Meanwhile here’s an Associated Press report by Linda A. Johnson. I’ll reproduce most of it for readers’ updating on Alzheimer’s disease:TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — For Alzheimer’s patients and their families, desperate for an effective treatment for the epidemic disease, there’s hope from new studies starting up and insights from recent ones that didn’t quite pan out.If the new studies succeed, a medicine that slows or even stops progression of the brain-destroying disease might be ready in three to five years, said Dr. William H. Thies, chief medical officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. The group assists patients and caregivers, lobbies for more research and helps fund studies.“The number of smart people working on this problem means to me we’ll begin to manage it better in the very near future,” Thies said. “It may be as short as three years away.”That’s only if government and other sources provide tens of millions of dollars for additional research and more patients join clinical studies.After decades of stumbles and dozens of promising experimental drugs failing, scientists think they’re now on the right track. They’re targeting what they believe are the mechanisms to arrest a disease that steadily steals patients’ personality and ability to remember, think and care for themselves.A vaccine is in mid-stage testing, and drugmakers shy about funding expensive treatment tests could start as many as 30 studies once they’re more confident that their approach is sound, Thies said. Early next year, the first study to try to prevent Alzheimer’s begins — in people a decade away from symptoms but who have a genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s. It will include three drugs that each attack the country’s No. 6 killer in a different way.And in May, the Obama administration unveiled an ambitious national plan to fund new research, better train those caring for Alzheimer’s patients and help families get needed services via a new website, http://www.alzheimers.gov .The number of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. is expected to jump from the current 5.4 million to 16 million by 2050. Costs for care, mostly borne by taxpayers, could skyrocket from roughly $200 billion this year to $1.1 trillion in 2050. The few treatments available only ease symptoms temporarily.After safety testing of the drug MK-8931 in about 200 patients, the 78-week study, known by the acronym EPOCH, will quickly expand to as many as 1,700 patients. That phase will test the daily pill at three different doses, compared with a dummy pill.Combining study phases should shave some time from the years-long, and often billion-dollar, research process. If MK-8931 works, EPOCH would give Merck one of the two major patient studies needed to win approval from government regulators, said Darryle D. Schoepp, Merck’s head of neuroscience research. Merck also has some backup compounds and plans other studies, including some on patients very early in the disease, Schoepp told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.In earlier research MK-8931 blocked formation of almost all the toxic amyloid plaques, he said.“No one’s ever done that before,” Schoepp said. “If (amyloid) plaques are the cause, the medicine will work.”Merck’s MK-8931 and some other experimental drugs aim to turn off the Alzheimer’s “faucet” by blocking production of amyloid beta. Other experimental drugs instead aim to bail out the sink while the faucet’s still running, either by removing clumps of amyloid plaque from the brain or by binding to bits of amyloid beta protein and clearing them from the brain before they clump into plaques.Researchers were frustrated this year by failures of two drugs that targeted amyloid beta — bapineuzumab from Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, and solanezumab from Eli Lilly and Co. Both drugs are injected because their large molecules can’t pass through the digestive tract into blood vessels. Their size might have limited how much medicine could get inside brain cells.However, solanezumab showed signs that attacking beta amyloid beta was effective. While it didn’t help most patients in the study, it slowed mental decline by about a third in patients with mild forms of the disease — a first for that approach.That’s added to researchers’ growing belief that patients must be treated early on, before Alzheimer’s has destroyed much of their brains.The big prevention study to start early next year, called DIAN TU, is meant to help find a way to do that, by testing drugs on people with a family history and genes that make them likely to develop Alzheimer’s in their 50s, rather than after 65.Seniors out for new funAs we advance in age, enjoying something new can be rare. Bu local seniors can sample a new twist to stage shows at the Eldorado Hotel in Reno. It’s the Christmas show there, a mix of old stories called simply “Aladdin,” Mideast myths and Christmas music. The new is 3D projection out into the audience much like we enjoy at 3D movies, It’s effective and a new way to enjoy live theater.• Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.