A breakthrough study from the Roskamp Institute could mean a cure for Alzheimer's is on the horizon.
For most people, it can be hard to imagine the daily struggle of living with an illness that slowly robs you of your memory, yet more than 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
That number is projected to rise to 14 million people by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Alzheimer's is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple, everyday tasks. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. It is also the costliest disease in the country, with annual costs exceeding a $250 billion.
Researchers have made remarkable progress in understanding the disease over the past 30 years, but a cure remains elusive. However, scientists at Sarasota’s Roskamp Institute have made a recent discovery that could change the course toward finding a cure.
Roskamp, a nonprofit research facility dedicated to studying Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions, launched a clinical trial in 2012 on a drug, called Nilvadipine, that may lead to a breakthrough in curing the disease. The trial studied the effects of the drug in 500 patients with early- and later-stage Alzheimer’s. Half of the patients took Nilvadipine every day for 18 months, while the other half were given a placebo.
Every few months, researchers assessed the patients’ short- and long-term memory, understanding of language and visuospatial abilities to see whether the drug slowed down the rate of disease progression.
The results of the trial showed a nearly 50% reduction in the rate of decline in early-stage patients compared to those who took the placebo.
“If you break down the study, you’ll see that those participants who have had Alzheimer's for a long time didn’t benefit from the drug, but the ones that hadn't had it for very long showed significant cognitive benefit compared to those taking the placebo,” said Roskamp Executive Director Dr. Michael Mullan.
“One of the things that we have learned over the years about Alzheimer’s is that if you are going to have a beneficial impact, you do need to get involved in the very early stages of the disease, and it looks like our data is resonating with that general finding.”
Participants with early-stage Alzheimer’s had been diagnosed with the disease on average for two years. Mullan, who was part of the team that discovered the genetic causes of Alzheimer's in the early 1990s, said the recent study was one of the few that actually showed a positive impact.
“Drug development studies focused on late-stage Alzheimer’s disease have always almost failed sadly and at great expense,” he said. “The findings suggest that we really need to pursue this drug or something like it only in early-stage disease."
The next step will be a new trial to validate the clinic study’s findings and to determine if higher doses, or a derivative of Nilvadipine, which does not lower blood pressure, could be effective for early-stage Alzheimer’s patients.
“The overall significance is the way that this drug is working might be really important for finding new treatments for the disease,” Mullan said. “In the long run, we’re going to need a lot of different ways of attacking Alzeihemer’s. There isn’t a magic bullet. There’s going to have to be lots of bullets, but these findings are really encouraging. We are proud to be a part of this worldwide effort to defeat such a devastating disease.”