The drug, called Enbrel, is injected into the spine where it blocks a chemical responsible for damaging the brain and other organs. The generic name for this drug is "Etanercept".
A pilot study carried out by U.S. researchers found one patient had his symptoms reversed "in minutes". Other patients have shown some improvements in symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion after weekly injections over six months.
The study of 15 patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation by online publishers Biomed Central. However, the Journal's website not only shows the primary study referenced here, but also an additional related publication. Here are the titles:
(1). "Rapid Cognitive Improvement In Alzheimers' Disease Following Perispinal Etanercept Administration" - This is the primary case report referenced in this story.
(2). "Perispinal Etanercept: Potential As An Alzheimer's Therapeutic" - This is a published commentary that some may also find pertinent.
The experiment showed that Enbrel can deactivate TNF (tumour necrosis factor) - a chemical in the fluid surrounding the brain that is found in Alzheimer's sufferers. When used by arthritis sufferers, Enbrel is self-administered by injection and researchers had to develop a way of injecting it into the spine to affect the brain cells.
Dr. Sue Griffin, a researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said: "It is unprecedented to see cognitive and behavioural improvement in a patient with established dementia within minutes of therapeutic intervention. This gives all of us in Alzheimer research a tremendous new clue about new avenues of research. Enbrel is not approved for treating Alzheimer's in the U.S. or the UK and is regarded as highly experimental", said Dr Griffin.
"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", she added.
Lead author of the study Edward Tobinick, of the University of California and Director of the Institute for Neurological Research, said the drug had "a very rapid effect that's never been reported in a human being before".
He added, "It makes practical changes that are significant and perceptible, making a difference to his daily living. Some patients have been able to start driving again. They don't come back to normal but the change is good enough for patients to want to continue treatment". He said top-up injections were necessary but some patients had them a month apart.
Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 700,000 Britons with about 500 cases diagnosed every day.
Neil Hunt, of the Alzheimer's Society charity, said: "The pursuit of a miracle cure for Alzheimer's continues to drive research into a variety of potential treatment targets. These include a possible link between inflammatory reactions in the brain and Alzheimer's".
Children exposed to lead in old paint, Victorian pipes and toys could be at risk of Alzheimer's later in life, scientists said yesterday. One study shows that even small amounts of the metal in the first few years can build up plaques around the brain.
Scientists at the University of Rhode Island told the New Scientist that they fed infant formula milk laced with low doses of lead to baby monkeys, then followed their progress for 23 years. A post mortem of the brains revealed plaques - harmful deposits of protein found in Alzheimer's patients.
In the United States, the Alzheimer's Association is the leading advocacy group for the cause. Unlike many similar groups, though, it restricts itself to advocacy and doesn't try to become a watchdog and boss us around. They are worthy of our support. The Utah chapter's website HERE.
Alzheimer's is indeed the "long goodbye". One of our most famous Alzheimer's patients was our last truly American president, Ronald Reagan, and he was essentially disabled by it for the last ten years of his life. Some even speculate that it may have began to afflict him as early as 1987, which coincides with the time things began to go wrong in his second administration, with the Iran-Contra scandal (which had George H. W. Bush's fingerprints all over it). And consider the emotional and physical burdens on the caregivers. Someone who is ambulatory but with severe Alzheimer's is like a toddler - they must be watched EVERY minute.
It is imperative that we consider expanding the testing of this procedure in order to expedite submission to the FDA for formal approval. And the FDA should be given authority to fast-track approval. Perhaps greater liability protection against malpractice litigation can be conferred to give medical providers an extraincentive to embrace this therapy.
The financial costs of Alzheimer's are already staggering, and with the large baby boomer generation entering their "golden" years, can only increase. The failure to bring this problem under control could well bankrupt us. Here are some statistics from the About.com website, last updated in September 2006:
Costs Associated With Alzheimer's Disease In The United States
- The annual direct and indirect costs of caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease is $100 billion
- The average lifetime cost of care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is $174,000
- The yearly cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer's depends on the stage of the disease.
-- $18,400 for someone with mild symptoms
-- $30,100 for moderate symptoms
-- $36,132 for severe symptoms.
- Alzheimer's disease costs business $24.6 billion in health care
- In the US 7 out of 10 people with Alzheimer's live at home where 75% of costs are absorbed by the family. The remaining 25% of care costs cost an average $19,000 a year
- It is estimated that Alzheimer's caregivers cost business $36.5 billion. This include the costs of absenteeism and lost productivity.
- The average cost of a nursing home in the US is $42,000 a year. However in some areas those costs can be at least $70,000
- Medicare costs for beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s disease were $91 billion in 2005. Medicare costs are expected to increase by 75% to $160 billion in 2010
- Medicaid expenditures on residential dementia care were $21 billion in 2005. These cost are estimated to rise by 14% to $24 billion in 2010.
This source last updated its information in 2006. However, medical costs have consistently grown faster than expected, so it is not unreasonable to possibly add 10% to these numbers already.
By the way, according to one person who posted a comment to the media story, Alzheimer's patients, contrary to urban legend, do know they have it. So jokes about "they don't realize they have it" don't apply.