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Posted: January 15, 2008

Breakthrough? Shot Appears to Reverse Alzheimer's Effects in Minutes

It’s one of those claims that immediately sound too good to be true. But researchers say a new therapy, currently used to treat arthritis, appears to reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease within minutes.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, details an Alzheimer's treatment based on administering a therapeutic molecule to a single patient. It highlights the importance of certain soluble proteins, called cytokines, in Alzheimer's disease, observers say.

Testing was performed on one patient, an 81-year-old physician, who could remember facts such as the current year and the state he lived in within 10 minutes of a single treatment, according to California researchers. He also could name five animals, and performed better on an arithmetic test. Before the shot, he couldn't recall such details, they said. After the treatment he was also “noticeably calmer, less frustrated and more attentive,' the authors wrote.

According to the BBC, the subject’s wife, who was interviewed at that point, said her husband’s improvement was "like some kind of science fiction story."

She added: "He's not the same person he was. I see he's clearer, more organized. "There is something [that] has put him back to where he was before. We almost fell off our chairs watching this."

"It is unprecedented that we can see cognitive and behavioral improvement in a patient with established dementia within minutes of therapeutic intervention," said Sue Griffin, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of the journal. "It is imperative that the medical and scientific communities immediately undertake to further investigate and characterize the physiologic mechanisms involved.
"This gives all of us in Alzheimer's research a tremendous new clue about new avenues of research, which is so exciting and so needed in the field of Alzheimer's," she said.
Alzheimer’s is spreading with lightning speed throughout society and has no cure. More than 5 million Americans have the progressive and ultimately-fatal disease, and the Alzheimer’s Association says someone new is diagnosed with the mind-ravaging disease every 72 seconds.
In the newly-heralded study, researchers focused on one cytokine, called tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF), which is a critical component of the brain's immune system. Normally, TNF finely regulates the transmission of neural impulses in the brain. But the researchers hypothesized that elevated levels of TNF in Alzheimer's disease interfere with this regulation.
To reduce elevated TNF, the study authors gave the single patient a spinal injection of an anti-TNF therapeutic called etanercept. Excess TNF-alpha has been documented in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with Alzheimer's.
The authors say their study documents a dramatic and unprecedented therapeutic effect in an Alzheimer's patient: improvement within minutes following delivery of perispinal etanercept, which is etanercept given by injection in the spine.
To read the medical journal report, click here.
Etanercept, which has a trade name of Enbrel and is co-marketed in the United States by Amgen and Wyeth, binds and inactivates excess TNF. Etanercept is FDA-approved to treat a number of immune-mediated disorders and is used off label in the study. Its typical use is for treatment of psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The use of anti-TNF therapeutics as a new treatment choice for many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and potentially even Alzheimer's, was recently chosen as one of the top 10 health stories of 2007 by the Harvard Health Letter.
Similarly, the Neurotechnology Industry Organization has recently selected new treatment targets revealed by neuroimmunology (such as excess TNF) as one of the top 10 Neuroscience Trends of 2007, according to the authors. The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives has chosen the pilot study using perispinal etanercept for Alzheimer's for inclusion and discussion in their 2007 Progress Report on Brain Research.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Edward Tobinick, is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of the Institute for Neurological Research, a private medical group in Los Angeles. Dr. Hyman Gross, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Southern California, was co-author.
The study is accompanied by an extensive commentary by Sue Griffin, Ph.D., director of research at the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock and at the Geriatric Research and Clinical Center at the VA Hospital in Little Rock, who along with Dr. Robert Mrak, chairman of pathology at University of Toledo Medical School in Ohio, are editors-in-chief of the Journal of Neuroinflammation.
Griffin and Mrak are pioneers in the field of neuroinflammation. Griffin published a landmark study in 1989 describing the association of cytokine over-expression in the brain and Alzheimer's disease. Her research helped pave the way for the findings of the present study. Griffin has recently been selected for membership in the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, a nonprofit organization of more than 200 leading neuroscientists, including 10 Nobel laureates.
"Even though this report predominantly discusses a single patient, it is of significant scientific interest because of the potential insight it may give into the processes involved in the brain dysfunction of Alzheimer's."
( contributed to this report)

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