Entries in Alzheimer's (48)


Cosmic Radiation Could Cause Alzheimer's in Mars Astronauts

NASA(NEW YORK) -- Space travel has always been portrayed as risky -- no air or water, extreme temperatures -- a place where even a small miscalculation can be fatal. It can also be hazardous to your brain health, particularly on a three-year-long mission to Mars, according to a study published this week in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The eight-year long study, conducted at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory on New York's Long Island, found that the cosmic radiation on such a mission could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

NASA is working on sending astronauts to a passing asteroid in the 2020s, and talks of a trip to Mars in the 2030s. It would take three years, with current technology, to get there and back. Current spacecraft are not heavily shielded from the cosmic radiation crew members would encounter beyond Earth's protective magnetic field.

Researchers used mice that were genetically engineered to be predisposed to Alzheimer's disease. They exposed them to cosmic radiation that was simulated in the lab.

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said Dr. M. Kerry O'Banion, senior author and professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The study team wanted to see if radiation had the potential to accelerate Alzheimer's in those who were genetically vulnerable. Mouse models have been used extensively in this type of research and the rate at which they develop the disease is well understood.

Scientists have long worried about the potential dangers of working and living in deep space. Cosmic radiation beyond low Earth orbit, researchers say, could lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even cataracts.

Radiation exposure can cause acute effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, skin injury and changes to white blood cell counts and the immune system, according to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. Longer-term radiation effects include damage to the eyes, gastrointestinal system, lungs and central nervous system.

On Earth, humans are protected by the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. Crew members on the International Space Station, at an altitude of 200 miles, are still within the magnetic sheath that surrounds us. The 24 Apollo astronauts who flew to the moon between 1969 and 1972 were not protected, but the longest missions lasted less than two weeks.

Once out of low orbit, astronauts are exposed to showers of different radioactive particles. Though engineers say they can protect themselves from the radiation associated with solar flares, so far, they cannot block other forms of cosmic radiation.

The longer astronauts are in deep space, the greater the exposure to this low-level radiation.

This is the first such study to explore effects of radiation on the nervous system, a phenomenon known as neurodegeneration, according to the authors.

"The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized," said O'Banion. "However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Protein Linked to Alzheimer's Found in Wild Cats in Japan

HANS-ULRICH OSTERWALDER/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Could cats hold the latest clue in figuring out the cause behind Alzheimer's?

Japanese researchers say they've discovered a possible link to the disease in cats.  Scientists who studied the carcasses of wild leopard cats on the island of Tsushima say they discovered an unusual protein in their brains, similar to those in human Alzheimer's patients.

Cats have been known to develop dementia, but this is the first time researchers have found deposits of the protein linked directly to the disease.

Scientists hope to conduct a similar study on house cats.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Future of Alzheimer's Battle Lies in Prevention, Doctor Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- First-degree relatives of adults with Alzheimer's disease have a higher lifetime risk for developing the condition than those without a family history.  However, there is currently little that these relatives can do that is proven to lower their risk of developing the disease later.

It is this problem that Dr. Sam Gandy, professor of Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, believes will be addressed sooner rather than later.  And he says a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine Thursday may set the stage for Alzheimer's prevention studies in the near future -- studies that may have more implications for the children of patients than for the patients themselves.

The new study looked at adults who had a genetic form of Alzheimer's but had not yet displayed symptoms.  Interestingly, researchers found that changes in the levels of a protein associated with Alzheimer's, called amyloid, can be detected up to 25 years before symptoms begin.

In an editorial accompanying the new study, Gandy explains why this matters.

"I think this study sets the stage for prevention studies," Gandy tells ABC News. "The only way to know how important amyloid is is to prevent it from forming altogether."

The editorial comes at a time when the potential role of amyloid in Alzheimer's is a topic of growing controversy.  A number of trials for amyloid-lowering drugs failed to show any benefits in patients with mild Alzheimer's.

Gandy argues that these recent drug trials were started too late.  Instead, he argues, new studies should target Alzheimer's prevention, ideally decades before patients show any signs of the disease.  

Hypothetically, the trials could target adults in their 40s and 50s with a family history of the disease.  If a safe amyloid-lowering drug was available, first-degree relatives could potentially get a trial of the drug, and researchers could monitor these individuals to see if they developed Alzheimer's or not.

Most Alzheimer's experts contacted by ABC News agree that the new data is promising.

"In my view, the editorial is precisely on target," says Dr. Paul Aisen, director of the Alzheimer's disease cooperative study at the University of California San Diego.  "This is an important message to share with the scientific community and with families affected by [Alzheimer's] who are discouraged by the disappointing results of large anti-amyloid trials conducted in individuals with dementia."

"Ultimately, to make a real impact, we have to focus on prevention," says Dr. James Galvin, professor of neurology and psychiatry at New York University Langone School of Medicine.  "This means identifying markers of disease to initiate effective treatments before symptoms begin.  Waiting until someone already has memory loss suggests that there is already substantial damage to vital brain systems."

Some experts, however, were more skeptical of the editorial's message.  Specifically, they question whether amyloid is really the true or only culprit behind Alzheimer's -- and whether focusing on it so heavily may close the door too early on exploring other potential factors behind the disease.

"The danger is that if we rely only on the amyloid hypothesis for developing treatment, we might miss other opportunities," says Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, president of the Prevent AD 2020 Campaign.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Should Doctors Prescribe a Skin Cancer Drug?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Desperate to stop Alzheimer's in its tracks, some caregivers are clamoring for a cancer drug shown to reverse the disease in mice.  But experts argue prescribing the drug, while legal, is unethical.

"[E]ven if patients and families are willing to take the risks for the potential benefit, the physician's answer should be no," Justin Lowenthal and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health and Massachusetts General Hospital wrote in an editorial published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The editorial was prompted by a February 2012 study published in the journal Science, that found the drug, bexarotene, relieved Alzheimer-like symptoms in three mouse models of Alzheimer's disease.  The drug has yet to be tested in human patients, but because it's approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a form of skin cancer, doctors can choose to prescribe it off-label.

"Off-label use of medications without proper testing may expose patients and their families to serious side effects without the possibility of benefit," said Dr. James Galvin, an Alzheimer's specialist at New York University.  "In the absence of any human trials, I do believe it unethical to prescribe a medication without evidence of efficacy and safety."

Like other cancer drugs, bexarotene can produce serious side effects, including headaches, hair loss, nausea and depression, and can increase cholesterol levels, according to the National Institutes of Health.  In elderly Alzheimer's patients, many of whom take multiple medications, bexarotene could interact and interfere with other drugs.

Most current medications used in Alzheimer's disease are aimed at symptom relief, addressing problems such as depression, hallucinations, agitation and nutrition.  But bexarotene is thought to attack the disease directly by cleaning up beta-amyloid protein plaques in the brain.  While other treatments targeting beta-amyloid have shown promise in mouse models, they've been largely unsuccessful in humans.

"No mouse data should ever get this kind of ill-advised attention because of a track record of failures," said Dr. Peter Whitehouse, a neurologist at Case Western University in Cleveland.

But for the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease and their 10 million caregivers, waiting for human clinical trials is a tall order.  And some doctors say patients and caregivers who understand the risks of an experimental drug should be allowed access.

"If the physician and patient are both suitably well-informed ... an argument could be made that it would be unethical to withhold treatment from a patient who requests it just because the definitive clinical trial had not yet occurred," said Dr. Clifford Saper of Harvard Medical School.

Clinical trials for promising treatments continue, and Dean Hartley from the Alzheimer's Association is optimistic about one day finding a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

"I think we will find one," he said.  "It's just a matter of when."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Case Study: IViG Keeps Alzheimer's at Bay for a Decade

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Jason Marder watched the inevitable decline of his younger brother, who died of Alzheimer's disease at the age of 50.  Then, just after his 60th birthday, he too began to exhibit subtle, early symptoms -- forgetfulness and difficulty focusing on conversations.

The memory loss progressed, and in 2004, Marder got the dreaded diagnosis: Alzheimer's, a disease that affects 5.1 million Americans.

But today, eight years after his diagnosis, Marder isn't any worse off.  He has shown no further memory loss and has remained stable.

Marder credits intravenous immunoglobulin, or IViG, therapy and a clinical trial that is swirling in controversy this week after an announcement of study results by the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2012 in Vancouver.

Some doctors hailed the therapy as "exciting," something that could potentially stabilize the disease, while others said the research is inconclusive and the study -- with only 16 subjects -- was too small.

Nonetheless, today Marder, now retired from working in apparel, continues his independent lifestyle, playing tennis and biking in his native New York City.

"Things are going really nicely.  I can't complain," said Marder, now 70.  "I don't feel any going backwards."

For the past five years, Marder has been part of a clinical trial with Dr. Norman R. Relkin, director of the Memory Disorders Program at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Relkin presented data that found, overall, that 11 study participants who received the immunotherapy Gammagard (IViG) for three full years showed improvements in cognition, memory, daily functioning and mood.

"We are seeing encouraging results," Relkin told ABC News.  And despite negative publicity, "I don't want people to give up hope for symptomatic treatment of the disease".

Intravenous immunoglobulin is a mixture that contains molecules pooled from plasma, a component of human blood.  It is used to treat various autoimmune, infectious and idiopathic diseases, and its supply is therefore limited.

IViG works by using the body's natural defense or immune system and anti-amyloid antibodies.  A protein called beta amyloid accumulates in the brain of those who have Alzheimer's.

"We don't know exactly what it targets, but we do know it contains all antibodies that the body produces," said Relkin.  "It alters the function of the immune system and decreases inflammation in the brain".

He said that his research team found the rate of brain shrinkage had slowed and the study had "exceeded criteria" to go forward with a phase III trial.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Elderly Binge Drinkers Face Higher Risk of Cognitive Decline

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) -- Women have been told for years that a glass of wine a day could actually improve their health, because it's good for the heart and brain. But researchers in San Francisco warned Wednesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Canada that elderly women who drink moderately could be at increased risk for decline in brain function.

The researchers said that adults older than 65 who reported heavy drinking at least twice each month more than doubled their likelihood to suffer loss of memory and brain function. Consuming four or more alcoholic beverages at a time was considered in the study as heavy binge drinking.

So how much alcohol should a woman be drinking?
"As always, the key is moderation or one drink a day for women be it wine, beer or spirit. It lowers risk of heart disease and stroke.  And it helps protect your brain from mental decline," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor.

But, Dr. Besser cautions, "women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant shouldn't drink. And women at high risk for breast cancer should also think twice. Your risk goes up 10 percent if you have a daily drink. But otherwise, drink up -- a little."

Tina Hoang, the study's lead author and clinical research coordinator at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center explained why alcohol consumption in late-life may not be beneficial for cognitive function in older women.

"It may be that the brains of oldest old adults are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, but it is also possible that factors associated with changing alcohol use related to coping or loss could be involved," Hoang said. "Clinicians should carefully assess their older patients for both how much they drink and any changes in patterns of alcohol use."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could Ritalin Help Alzheimer’s Patients, Too?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) -- Ritalin, a drug most often used for attention deficit disorders in the very young, may hold promise for a very different set of patients -- the predominantly old group of patients who suffer with Alzheimer’s.

Apathy -- simply put, a lack of interest or motivation -- is an under-recognized problem in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Over 70 percent of patients with Alzheimer’s suffer from apathy as the illness progresses over the course of five years.

“Often hidden as depression, apathy can significantly impair a person’s ability to interact with their loved ones,” says Dr. Jacobo Mintzer of the Medical University of South Carolina, lead author of a new clinical trial whose results were presented Wednesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

The international multi-center study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, looks at using the stimulant medication methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin, to treat symptoms of apathy in some patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“No one knows exactly what causes apathy,” says Mintzer. “Some data suggests that it is correlated to a decrease in the transmission of dopamine [a chemical] in the brain.” The drug Ritalin, which is inexpensive and currently on the market to treat patients with attention deficit disorders (ADD) and narcolepsy, is a compound that enhances the activity of dopamine in the brain.

The trial included 60 patients who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease without depression, and randomized the patients to have treatment with Ritalin or a placebo.  Over the six weeks of treatment, the patients receiving Ritalin had significant improvements on their clinical testing for apathy.  The side effects were minimal, and included weight loss, anxiety and headaches.

“While there has been increasing attention on early detection and prediction of Alzheimer’s disease, the fact remains that treatment of symptoms, both behavioral and cognitive, is a considerable challenge,” says Dr. Alan Lerner, professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University.  “Apathy is one of the most common behavioral problems and is a major cause of caregiver distress and morbidity in Alzheimer’s Disease. This study of methylphenidate begins to make significant advances in this direction.”

Mintzer stresses that although Ritalin is not a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, it has promise for the future as an aid for symptom improvement. Larger studies with more patients will be needed to determine the long-term effects before Ritalin can be used as a standard treatment for these patients.

“We don’t think we will cure patients, but it will have a positive impact in quality of life of patients and their caregivers,” he says.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Drugs Aimed at Ending Alzheimer's Decline

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The cognitive decline experienced by those with dementia is all too well-known.  And unlike heart disease or cancer, there are no treatments available for the prevention or cure of Alzheimer's, which is a 100 percent progressive and fatal disease.

But that doesn't mean there is no hope.

Alzheimer's researchers and other experts discussed a slew of potential future therapies this week at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver.  The discussions come on the coattails of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of Eli Lily's Amyvid -- a drug designed to help doctors zero in on the toxic culprit believed to cause brain cell death in Alzheimer's disease, a protein called beta-amyloid.

Many of these treatments are in a class of drugs that act in a similar fashion to vaccines, using the body's own immune system to attack beta-amyloid.  Two of these drugs -- Eli Lily's solenezumab and Pfizer's bapineuzamab -- are already in Phase III clinical trials, the last stage of testing before they could potentially be marketed.  Roche's Genentech has also recently been investing in a new drug class that will target another Alzheimer's perpetrator known as tau protein -- a substance released from dead neurons thought to also contribute to the progression of the disease.

"There is a huge revolution going on in medicine using the immune system to target specific abnormalities in the disease pathway of Alzheimer's," said Dr. Michael Rafii, assistant professor of neuroscience at UC San Diego.  Rafii is the associate medical director of the Alzheimer's disease cooperative study, a group that has been testing new Alzheimer's therapies for the last 20 years.  "Immunotherapy has the potential to prevent Alzheimer's disease."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than five million Americans, and it is the sixth leading cause of death.  It is caused by an accumulation beta-amyloid, a byproduct of normal brain function.

The human brain is made up of more than 100 billion neurons, and by working together, these neurons are able to create and store a lifetime of hopes, dreams and memories.  Faster and more capable than any computer ever made, the brain has the ability to react to its surroundings in less than two tenths of a second and, scholars have estimated, store more than three million hours of video data.

Normally, our brains are able to get rid of the toxic substance, but in the Alzheimer's brain, the protein accumulates like yellow plaque on un-brushed teeth, eventually leading to the death of brain cells.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Drug Curbs Compulsive Buying in Shopaholics

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- A drug used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may curb compulsive buying in shopaholics, a new study found.

The drug, called memantine, helps people with Alzheimer's disease think more clearly by reducing overactivity in the brain.  But it also eases impulsivity, a trait tied to rash decisions and impractical purchases.

"In a way, compulsive buying is similar to other addictions in that people are thinking about the immediacy of the reward without considering the consequences," said study author Dr. Jon Grant, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.  "We asked: Could we use a medication to essentially enhance decision-making as a way to help them with their behavior?"

Grant and colleagues recruited eight compulsive buyers, all women, to take memantine for 10 weeks, and used cognitive tests and surveys to track impulsive thoughts and spending.  In the end, they found significant reductions in both.

"People with compulsive spending don't think through the full range of consequences of their behavior, and that improved with this medication," said Grant.

The study, published in the May issue of Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, gives hope to an estimated six percent of Americans who struggle with the euphoric highs and guilt-ridden lows of compulsive buying.

"It can interfere with people's jobs, their marriages," said Grant, describing how compulsive buyers squander their savings and invent lies to explain their actions.  "All of this leads to incredible personal distress.  A person might feel depressed and even suicidal because they don't know how to control their behavior and feel bad about being dishonest."

Despite being widely recognized as a disorder on par with alcoholism or gambling addiction, compulsive buying is not listed in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and there is no standard treatment.

"There is some evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit people with this problem," said Grant, describing the psychotherapeutic technique that aims to replace dysfunctional behaviors with healthier habits.  "Antidepressants have also been tried but were largely unsuccessful.  But this study represents at least a possible pharmacological approach."

Before memantine can be approved for the treatment of compulsive shopping, it has to be tested against a placebo in clinical trials, said Grant, adding that the drug is also being tested in other impulse disorders, including alcoholism and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Music Brings Patients 'Back to Life'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Henry Dryer sits slumped over the tray attached to his wheelchair.  He doesn't speak, and rarely moves, until a nursing home worker puts his headphones on.  Then Dryer's feet start to shuffle, his folded arms rock back and forth, and he sings out loud in perfect sync with his favorite songs.

"I feel a band of love, dreams," said Dryer, 92, who has dementia.  "It gives me the feeling of love, romance!"

Henry is one of seven patients profiled in the documentary Alive Inside, a heartwarming look at the power of music to help those in nursing homes.

"There are a million and a half people in nursing homes in this country," director Michael Rossato-Bennett told ABC News.  "When I saw what happened to Henry, whenever you see a human being awaken like that, it touches something deep inside you."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting 5.4 million Americans.  The disease swiftly robs patients of their memories and other brain functions, forcing most to live out their final years in nursing homes.

Rossato-Bennett said he took on the documentary project to promote Music & Memory, a nonprofit organization that brings iPods with personalized music to dementia patients in nursing home care.

"When I end up in a nursing home, I'll want to have my music with me," said Dan Cohen, executive director of Music & Memory.  "There aren't many things in nursing homes that are personally meaningful activities.  Here's the one easy thing that has a significant impact."

Cohen said the personalized playlists, chosen by loved ones, make patients light up.

"They're more alert, more attentive, more cooperative, more engaged," he said.  "Even if they can't recognize loved ones and they've stopped speaking, they hear music and they come alive."

Alive Inside
premieres Wednesday, April 18 at the Rubin Museum in New York City.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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