Alzheimer's researchers are cautiously hopeful that three new drugs undergoing clinical trials will slow the course of the mind-robbing disease.
At this week's Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver, 4,000 experts will hear about three drugs that have taken nearly $1 billion and 20 years to reach the stage 3 clinical trial phase. The research follows more than a decade of failed attempts to stop Alzheimer's in its tracks.
The new drugs all aim to get rid of the amyloid protein suspected of being involved in the death of brain cells. Current medications help with symptoms temporarily.
"It would for the first time give us a medication that changes the course of Alzheimer's disease," said Bill Thies, scientific director of the Alzheimer's Association.
Researchers testing one drug, Baxter International Inc.'s Gammagard, are expected to provide a detailed progress report on 16 of 24 patients who were enrolled in an earlier study.
"Their cognitive function, their memory function has remained stable over that period of time," said Thies. "That's something we would not expect for people with Alzheimer's disease."
Gammagard is intravenous immune globulin, or IVIG, that uses multiple antibodies from blood.
Treating Alzheimer's with IVIG would cost $2,000 US to $5,000 US every two weeks, depending on the patient's weight, said Dr. Norman Relkin, head of a memory disorders program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He consults for some drug makers and has patents on tests that measure amyloid.
Neurologist Dr. Howard Feldman of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver said he'd interpret the Gammagard results very cautiously because they may not be statistically significant.
"We may not have the right drug, we may not have the right timing, but we're on the right pathway," Feldman said.
If not, Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minn., worries what could happen to the field.
"If these studies are all flat, dead negative, then I think we're in trouble, the field is in trouble because I think a lot of other companies are going to bail on this notion," Pederson said.
Other drug results are expected next month.
Bapineuzumab (bap-ih-NOOZ-uh-mab), by Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy unit, and solanezumab (sol-ah-NAYZ-uh-mab), by Eli Lilly & Co, are also undergoing testing. Like Gammagard, they're given by periodic intravenous infusions.
Researchers are testing for memory and cognitive improvements and they're using brain imaging and spinal fluid tests to check if the drugs are hitting their target, Petersen said.
Daily Chores And Exercise
A recent study in the <a href="http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2012/04/18/WNL.0b013e3182535f0e.extract" target="_hplink">journal <em>Neurology</em></a> showed that simple activities like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/chores-alzheimers-exercise-_n_1440969.html" target="_hplink">cooking, cleaning and washing the dishes</a> -- as well as good, old-fashioned exercise -- is associated with a decreased Alzheimer's disease risk, even among people who are age 80 and older. <br> <br> Researchers found that the people who were the least active each day -- in the bottom 10th percentile in the study -- were two times more likely to go on to develop Alzheimer's disease, compared with people who were in the top 10th percentile for daily activity. <br> <br> The results were even more marked when evaluating the intensity of physical activity: Those who were in the bottom 10th percentile for physical activity intensity were three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's, compared with those in the top 10th percentile.
Speak Two Languages
Being bilingual could strengthen your brainpower and protect against dementia, according to a recent study published in the <a href="http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/" target="_hplink">journal <em>Trends in Cognitive Sciences</em></a>. <br> <br> HuffPost Canada Living <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/02/benefits-of-being-bilingual_n_1396671.html" target="_hplink">explains why</a>: <br> <br> <blockquote>The anticipation of having to speak one of two language at any given time forces the brain to run continually, and results in an experience that helps avoid a mental conflict between languages.</blockquote> <br> <br> "It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank," study researcher Dr. Ellen Bialystok <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/18/bilingual-alzheimers-brain-power-multitasking" target="_hplink">told <em>The Guardian</em></a>.
Research in flies suggests that the main compound in turmeric, called curcumin, could have powers against Alzheimer's. <br> <br> <em>The Telegraph</em> reported on a study in the journal <em>PLoS ONE</em>, which suggested that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9084973/Having-a-curry-could-help-ward-off-dementia.html" target="_hplink">curcumin may work</a> by reducing the amount of oligomers, which are the "precursor" forms of amyloid plaques in the brain. <br> <br> A previous study in the journal <em>Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology</em> discussed the possible <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/" target="_hplink">effects of curcumin on Alzheimer's</a>. Researchers wrote: <br> <br> <blockquote>Due to various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with AD has improved.</blockquote>
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/puzzles-and-exercise-help-beat-dementia-symptoms_n_1122502.html" target="_hplink">Doing some puzzles</a> and playing games every day could ward off mental decline, according to a recent study in the journal <em>BMC Medicine</em>. <br> <br> Researchers from the University of Erlangen conducted a study in dementia patients in nursing homes, and had the study participants do exercises like bowling and solving puzzles together, the Press Association reported. They also spent some time doing things like woodwork and gardening. <br> <br> The researchers found that all of these activities seemed to have the same effect on the study participants' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/puzzles-and-exercise-help-beat-dementia-symptoms_n_1122502.html" target="_hplink">brain functioning</a>, compared with the typical dementia medication, the Press Association reported. <br> <br> Another recent study in the journal <em>Archives of Neurology</em> showed that life-long reading and game-playing could <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=153901" target="_hplink">decrease beta amyloid levels</a> in the brain, which are considered a "hallmark of the condition," MedicineNet reported. <br> <br> "Staying cognitively active over the lifetime may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's by preventing the accumulation of Alzheimer's-related pathology," study researcher Susan Landau, a research scientist at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=153901" target="_hplink">told MedicineNet</a>.
Elderly people who <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11537068" target="_hplink">walk six to nine miles a week</a> could decrease their risk of dementia and brain functioning problems, BBC News reported. <br> <br> The 2009 study in <em>Neurology</em> included 299 people whose average age was 78. Researchers found that people who walked the most in the study -- six to nine miles a week -- had a halved risk of developing the brain problems as people who walked the least in the study, according to BBC News. <br> <br> Similarly, a 2007 study that also appeared in the journal <em>Neurology</em> showed that people age 65 and older who regularly exercise have a <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-12/aaon-wam121107.php" target="_hplink">decreased risk of vascular dementia</a>. That study included 749 people.
Eat Your Fish And Nuts
Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found that eating a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/omega-3-fatty-acids-alzheimers-memory-brain_n_1475806.html" target="_hplink">diet high in omega-3 fatty acids</a> -- such as fish, nuts and chicken -- is linked with lower levels of of beta-amyloid protein, which is linked with Alzheimer's disease. <br> <br> The study, published in the journal Neurology, included 1,219 people age 65 and older who didn't have dementia. The researchers found that the higher their consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids, the lower the beta-amyloid in the blood.
Drink Green Tea
That refreshing green brew could have powers against Alzheimer's disease, according to research from Newcastle University. <br> <br> WebMD reported that when <a href="http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20110106/green-tea-may-help-prevent-alzheimers-disease" target="_hplink">green tea is digested</a>, the released compounds have protective effects against Alzheimer's. <br> <br> "When green tea is digested by enzymes in the gut, the resulting chemicals are actually more effective against key triggers of Alzheimer's development than the undigested form of the tea," study researcher Ed Okello <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jan/06/green-tea-alzheimers-cancer" target="_hplink">told <em>The Guardian</em></a>.
Find out if there are any quick and easy brain training exercises you can do in order to prevent dementia.