Arthritis drug hope for Alzheimer's patients
Friday, 11 April 2008
The Alzheimer's Society is calling for further detailed research into a treatment using a widely used arthritis drug that seems to be producing marked improvement in some patients.
Etanercept blocks tumour necrosis factor-alpha, or TNF, which causes pain and swelling in the joints. TNF may also affect communication between brain cells - and researchers say it could be partly to blame for the advance of Alzheimer's.
The researchers in Los Angeles believe they have discovered a way of delivering etanercept into the brain via an injection in the neck, and then tilting the patient to encourage blood flow into the brain, allowing it to block the disruption caused by TNF
About 50 people are being treated at the private clinic. Some have been taking etanercept for more than three years. Doctors report a response rate of about 90%, usually within minutes.
They say typically they see a week-by-week improvement with each dose, reaching a plateau after about three months.
Professor Edward Tobinick, who leads the research, said: "What we see is an improvement in their ability to think and calculate, their memory improves, their verbal ability improves, they find words easier, they seem happier, and we often also see an improvement in gait in those patients whose gait is affected." But he warned they did not return to normal.
The small scale of the trials and the fact that there has never been a placebo-controlled study has made UK experts cautious.
Dr Suzanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said that with 400,000 people already diagnosed with Alzheimer's and numbers rising, new research on treatment is always welcome. But she added several notes of caution.
"On the surface these results are exciting but we need to treat the study with caution. There are large gaps in the research, which only involved a small pilot group and we cannot draw any conclusions until a controlled trial is carried out.
"We have concerns about the potential cost and practicalities of a treatment that has to be injected into patients' spines - a procedure that will require trained staff and special facilities.
"It is very encouraging to see alternative ways to treat Alzheimer's disease being explored. We need to see much wider investment in dementia research in the UK."
*Meanwhile a study in the April online issue of Neurology adds to evidence linking impaired insulin secretion in Type II diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Dementia and diabetes have both been linked to being overweight and having an "apple" shaped body.