ALZHEIMER’S: A CURE IN SIGHT ?

According to Science Daily (hot off the press):

An extraordinary new scientific study, which for the first time documents marked improvement in Alzheimer’s disease within minutes of administration of a therapeutic molecule, has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.

Scientists have hypothesized that an excess of a molecule called Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-∝) causes a disturbance in the normal brain functions that are mediated by this chemical. By injecting a substance that acts against TNF, they have dramatically reversed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease within minutes in a patient.

This new study highlights the importance of certain soluble proteins, called cytokines, in Alzheimer’s disease. The study focuses on one of these cytokines, tumor necrosis factor-alpha(TNF), a critical component of the brain’s immune system. Normally, TNF finely regulates the transmission of neural impulses in the brain. The authors hypothesized that elevated levels of TNF in Alzheimer’s disease interfere with this regulation. To reduce elevated TNF, the authors gave patients an injection of an anti-TNF therapeutic called etanercept. Excess TNF-alpha has been documented in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with Alzheimer’s.

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.

Though this paper reports an exciting development in the continued search for a weapon against the dementia that characterizes Alzheimer’s, one of the authors has a financial stake in the drug being used. However, in time to come, more studies will surely be done to confirm the true value of this agent in the management of the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain (cause unknown, though genetic factors may be at play) that affects normal brain functions like problem solving, memory, etc. The patient ultimately becomes a virtual vegetable.

While many other disorders of the brain (including some tumors) can cause the same symptoms, diagnosis can be established by careful neurological assessment and a special scan called a SPECT scan, among others. SPECT scan is now available in major Indian cities.

Many preventive methods have been recommended, including smoking, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating fish oils (with their omega-3 fatty acids), and intellectually stimulating activities like playing chess.

Alzheimer’s has claimed a large number of historical and modern figures. The ‘A’ list itself is exhaustive, including Aristotle, Aeschylus, Aga Khan, Paula Abdul, Neil and Louis Armstrong.
Among several American Presidents, the last victim was Ronald Reagan.

25 responses to “ALZHEIMER’S: A CURE IN SIGHT ?

  1. Smoking helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease?//Many preventive methods have been recommended, including smoking, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating fish oils (with their omega-3 fatty acids), and intellectually stimulating activities like playing chess.//

  2. Smoking? Cannabis maybe.

  3. Rambodoc:

    I have to ask what Prerna did. Really? Can you provide the link or the reference (I can look it up using ScienceDirect to which I still have a subscription till I graduate).

    And Paula Abdul has Alzheimer’s? Really? Where did you read that? And Louis Armstrong? Really? I think he died of a heart attack… Doc, lay off the sauce 😉 It is affecting your blog.

  4. Prerna, Marc,Shefaly and all other bilious sniffers of breath:
    I rarely, if ever, drink. Objectively quantified, ‘rarely’ amounts to around 100 ml of alcohol on a Saturday night. Was yesterday Saturday? NO.
    And I am exceptionally seen to be perceptibly affected by it. Like every Saturday night.
    (Totally untrue: I am never drunk, but the above sounded witty.)
    Marc: never smoke grass. Period.
    I have already given the Wiki reference in the post: it mentions smoking. I know of surgeons who started smoking cigars just to avoid Alzheimer’s. Of course, as with most things, there have been conflicting reports about the benefit or lack of it regarding Alzheimer’s. Just Google ‘smoking Alzheimer’s’ and you will get a large number of articles on the subject (I am sure you did not know this?!). 😛
    If you read what I have written in the paragraph on prevention, you will notice that I have not categorically said that these were the definitive and proven preventive methods. I have merely listed some of them. Omega fatty acids, for example, is one of those that works in a particular subset of patients, and not in all. It was not advisable for me to put all that in the post, for fear of inducing deep sleep in those of you who read this blog at work (thereby getting fired).
    Paula Abdul has a history of neurological and behavioral dysfunction. While some say she was on the sauce, others say she is in early Alzheimer’s. You can get the list of celebs involved from here.
    You will find both Armstrong and Paula’s names there. Plus a lot else that may suprise you.
    And remember:
    What is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gender.

  5. Doc,

    I read your post with great interest. I lost my father to Alzheimer’s five years ago, when he was 85. A very lively and intellectually vibrant person until age 80, he gradually slowed down and became lost in his own world after that. We all (including the physicians) put it down to ageing particular to a person with a basically weak constitution. Alzheimer’s per se was suspected and confirmed less than a week before he passed away.

    Earlier, one of my dear and revered friends — the poet Nissim Ezekiel — fell to the disease at a younger age than my father, after long suffering which was very painful to those around him. We will never know how much he himself felt of the suffering.

    The discovery you report inspires hope. But the crucial question is how long will it be before it actually becomes available to those afflicted?

    And the preventives you mention — have any of them (leave smoking aside for the nonce 🙂 ) been actually tested in control conditions? And if you believe in Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani etc., do they prescribe any preventives/treatments? Intellectual activities such as chess seem interesting. Perhaps one could add things like crossword puzzles, sudoku, listening analytically to classical music and other similar pusuits.

    @ Shefaly:

    The presence of a particular affliction does not have to preclude some other affliction as the cause of death, does it? Especially something as common as heart disease?

  6. @ Rambodoc:

    I have seen the slow decline caused by Alzheimer’s in someone close some 20 years ago. And since then, needless to say, given my approach to things, I have relentlessly gained information and am soon planning to support a research trust working in this area.

    Since I took this to be a serious article and you are a real life doc, I was hoping for more serious links. :-/ I did not mean to imply you are a drunk.

    Before I wrote the comment, I checked several sources but could not find any authoritative references. Hence my question. For the record, that link does not pass my filter for ‘authoritative’ sources.

    BTW the Google search for “smoking Alzheimer’s” brings up a spate of articles that suggest smokers are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those who have never smoked.

    What say?

  7. @ R-doc:

    In British slang, ‘nonce’ refers to a sex offender who is interested in children. I highly recommend smoking for them if it can up their risk of Alzheimer’s!

  8. Maybe the smokers die of lung cancer before they reach the age when they could be prone to Alzheimer’s!. This is a difficult situation, the oncologist would say no to smoking while the specialist for Alzheimer’s (whatever he is called) recommends it. The same way as cardiologists reccomend a glass of wine everyday while the gastroenterologist is against alcohol consumption.
    As Shefaly said you are a real life doctor and this wasn’t one of your funny posts so there is no reason not to believe you. I love to read your posts on medicine.

  9. Pingback: From Around the Net (January 11th) « Café Philos: an internet café

  10. I too have a relative who suffered from alzeimers and have seen it reduce the person to nothing. thanks for the info.

  11. Vivek:
    I don’t know of any controlled trials about these, but I am not an expert here…
    As far as the new drug is concerned, it is commercially named, but I think it will need more studies before it is proven as the best answer for the patient of Alzheimer’s.
    Shefaly: You can hardly expect scientific references about celebs having specific diseases. As far as smoking is concerned, there are conflicting reports, and I did NOT assert that they were proven preventives.
    Prerna, Nita:
    Thanks. I love to write for those who love my minor contributions.
    Prerna: do you mean to say that you don’t believe me when you read my funny posts?!

  12. This is a devastating illness…my sympathy to those who have suffered via family members.
    I bet this form of “senility” has always been with us, but is now differentiated because we have learned so much about it and live long enough to suffer the sequelae.

  13. R-Doc:

    “You can hardly expect scientific references about celebs having specific diseases. ”

    I did not ‘scientific’; I said ‘authoritative’. With some reservations, I would consider Wikipedia reasonably authoritative for the level of conversations in the blogosphere and Wiki entries for Neil A, Louis A and Paula A do not mention Alzheimer’s.

    Further the availability of authoritative info does depend on the celebrity and his/ her family. Many who suffer something chronic and debilitating have taken it upon themselves to let the public know and to promote awareness about the illness using their celebrity status. Examples are Michael Fox and Parkinson’s, and Terry Pratchett who is in early stages of Alzheimer’s. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s famously has turned Nancy Reagan’s stance on stem cell research.

    About smoking I did not say you said it was ‘proven’; I merely said if there was a reference to any studies.

    Come on, Doc, I know I am not your favourite commenter here but cut me some slack for my good intentions.

  14. Vivek Khadpekar

    Shefaly:

    Not being resident in Britain, I am not au courant in British slang. My use of the expression “for the nonce” was in the traditional sense, established, AFAIK, as far back as the latter half of the 12th c., and now archaic, meaning “for the present” or “in this particular instance”.

    The usage you mention is, for me, a nonce-word 🙂 , but thanks for the enlightenment.

  15. “Come on, Doc, I know I am not your favourite commenter here but cut me some slack for my good intentions.”
    Shefaly: check your premises! I never underestimate anyone’s intelligence, least of all yours. I think you said I don’t need to put an apostrophe after ‘yours’, right?

  16. Exciting news Rambodoc! Am curious about how this will develop.

    Mind me, just two things:
    Just like low doses of nicotine lavender (oil) seems to have positive effects.

    Out of mind (Herseschimmen) by J. Bernlef is a really really wel written novel about this disease from the perspective of the patient focussing on the distance it creates.

    Paula Abdul? Alzheimer is the least of her problems…

  17. Drugs for mental health, especially neurologically degenerative diseases, that can completely cure or reverse damages are yet to prove completely efficacious especially in the case of Alzhemier’s or Parkinson’s. I lost a parent to Parkinson and a relative to Alzhemier’s. Drug companies have a lot of stake in these new cures and medications and hence we can’t afford to feel breathless about a new report on a magic cure. Many of such neurological diseases are said to be treatable though not curable yet. While such reports give way to a lot of hope we have to wait and watch.
    Hmm, my dad said drinking coffee helps bring down Parkinson’s. And my old man drank a lot of coffee in his youth. Coffee lobbies, tobacco lobbies and many more we can blame until the day true-blue cure is arrived at.
    I can only light up and wait for the final truth arrives in a capsule form.

  18. It seems to offer a ray of hope but is there any drug that is totally without side effects ? or is this just a matter of trade off between the lesser and greater evil?

  19. “or is this just a matter of trade off between the lesser and greater evil?”
    Usha: ALWAYS (at least in medicine).
    Maami: Yes, drug companies do have a stake in this, several billions worth, which is why independent verification of claims is mandatory before we jump to conclusions. Thanks for the comment. Let the light shine on you!
    Purnima: Thanks.

  20. The destruction of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine results in Alzheimer’s disease, and cholinesterase inhibitors have been traditionally administered to fight the assault of acetylcholinesterase, thereby reducing or delaying the severity of the memory loss.

    But I think constant use of the brain helps postpone the onset of AD. In fact, blogging might just about fit the bill. So, carry on R. While you are entertaining us, you are actually warding off dementia (or are you?).

  21. Hmmn. Blogging and blocking AD at the same time.
    Clever. Only a Thair Vadai could have thought of this!
    I still have hope, you mean?

  22. Lakshmi, I’m saving your comment to save me from the wife when she complains I blog too much !

    Doc, Thanks for the comments. Your limerick page rocks. One about Bachelete is my favorite. Sorry for the digression. Nice post, have had a few relatives succumb to AD — it is painful. Paula Abdul has it ? I thought her erratic ways were some substance abuse ?

  23. Athreya: Thanks for the kind words.
    Multiple problems, including substance abuse, would be my guess.

  24. This is great, if it turns out to be a legitimate therapy/cure for the disease. I work with someone whose father has Alzheimer’s, and she told me he once said, “I’m not sure where I am, but this is cool.”

  25. Very pleased to read this ,as nex birthday i will be 60

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s