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Posted: December 09, 2008

Does Growth Hormone Drug Slow Alzheimer's? New Study Casts Doubt

 A drug that increases the release of growth hormone failed in testing to slow the rate of progression of Alzheimer’s disease in humans, according to a newly published study.

Growth hormone is naturally produced in the body and stimulates the release of another hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Studies on mice have suggested that IGF-1 helps reduce beta-amyloid, which is a form of plaque, in the brain. The accumulation of beta-amyloid is a core feature of Alzheimer's disease, and is thought to be an important cause of the memory and behavioral symptoms of the disease.


In the study published in the medical journal Neurology, scientists used the investigational compound MK-677 to boost the blood levels of the hormone. MK-677 stimulates the release of natural growth hormone from the pituitary gland. The growth hormone then stimulates the release of IGF-1 in other parts of the body.


The study involved 416 people who had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and underwent brain scans as part of the testing. Half of the group took MK-677 and the other half took a placebo for one year.


As a result, researchers found that MK-677 did not slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, even though MK-677 was effective in increasing levels of IGF-1.


“This work suggests that targeting this hormone system may not be an effective approach to slowing the rate of Alzheimer’s disease progression,” says study author Dr. J.J. Sevigny, of Merck Research Laboratories in North Wales, Pennsylvania. “Importantly, it challenges the common theory that hormones may attack beta-amyloid plaque in the brain and builds on the body of clinical evidence for Alzheimer's disease as we seek to develop more effective treatments.”


It is estimated that every 70 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. There are only five drugs that are FDA-approved to treat the symptoms of the disease, and the medical and scientific community is in a race to find a cure for the fatal, mind-robbing disease that already afflicts more than 5 million Americans, according to statistical estimates.

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