Arthritis Drug Studies Show Promise for Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Another day, another study. Still, new studies interest me, as they show the diverse ways brilliant minds are approaching the Alzheimer's mystery.


    An article on titled, "New hope for Alzheimer's sufferers after new treatment 'restores memory in minutes,'" explains a nearly magical response by a person with Alzheimer's disease, to an injection of Enbrel, a TNF (tumor necrosis factor) drug used for rheumatoid arthritis. The man with Alzheimer's hadn't recognized his wife in months. Minutes after doctors injected the drug into the spine of the man with Alzheimer's, he recognized his wife.

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    Needless to say, this was a startling result. The experiment followed a study showing that levels of TNF can be up to 25 times higher in the fluid surrounding the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease than in someone without the disease.


    Professor Edward Tobinick of the University of California Los Angeles, and director of the Institute for Neurological Research, is leading research here in the U.S. about the use of Enbrel for Alzheimer's.


    The study caught my eye for several reason, one being that my son has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and was prescribed Enbrel at one point. He was still quite young. For arthritis, Enbrel is generally injected into the arm or leg or stomach (for Alzheimer's, it is injected into the spine). Unfortunately, his response was not what we had hoped, so he was taken off the drug. But one doesn't forget a drug that has been injected into your child on a weekly basis.


    The researchers have not been able to duplicate the startling results of the man who seemingly was cured of Alzheimer's in "a minute," as the headline suggests. Nor have they seen consistent results. Still, they have seen improvement for some people - enough improvement to continue studying the effects of the drug on Alzheimer's.


    This is one more way view Alzheimer's disease. As I've mentioned many times in my posts, I love to see all kinds of different approaches to research for Alzheimer's - and all diseases, for that matter. First of all, researchers may find that what works wonders for one person doesn't do a thing for another. Maybe there are different causes, or maybe different bodies respond differently to different chemicals.


    Mainly, I see the value of all of these approaches because they increase the likelihood that a substance will be found that alters the course of Alzheimer's more effectively than what is now available. The gold standard will be, of course, a substance that prevents or cures the disease. With people doing diverse experiments, this is likely to happen more quickly, and disappointing results in one study won't seem as devastating if we know that other approaches are being studied.


    As with the study that showed using a drug that is approved for schizophrenia for Alzheimer's, using a drug that is proven useful and safe for people with one disease already puts the research years ahead of the game, should it actually prove useful for treating another disease.


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    The article stresses that this is very early in the game. Doctors will not soon be prescribing Enbrel for Alzheimer's. However, it is a drug that is on the market, and if it is shown to be safe and useful for Alzheimer's, the time to get it approved for Alzheimer's will certainly be less than if it were a new drug.


    Until that time, we can chalk this up to one more study that shows some promise. It may succeed. It may fail. But one day, researchers in some study will shout some version of eureka! And a cure for Alzheimer's will begin to change lives for millions of people with Alzheimer's, and those who love them.


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Published On: July 10, 2008