Alzheimers Disease: Is There Hope on the Horizon or More Dashed Dreams?
Alzheimer's Disease was once again in the news this week, as talk of a possible research breakthrough in animals has once again raised the hopes of the thousands of people caring for loved ones with the progressive neurological disorder.
Researchers at Case Western University published an article in the journal Science which documented the use of a drug previously used for skin cancer in the treatment of mice with symptoms similar to Alzheimer's Disease. The drug, Targretin (bexarotene), has previously been used to treat the symptoms of a type of skin cancer called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. The research team at Case Western found that bexarotene was effective in clearing out beta-amyloid proteins in the rodent brain. Beta-amyloid proteins are a hallmark of Alzheimer's Disease; patients with the disease have an inability to clear out these proteins in their brains. As the disease progresses, the proteins cause tangles in the brain, leading to memory impairment and overall decreased global functioning.
A major problem with Alzheimer's Disease is the lack of effective treatment. Despite millions of dollars of research invested, there are still no treatments available to reverse the progress of the disease. The only medications on the market to date include Aricept (donepezil), Reminyl (galantamine), Exelon (rivastigmine) and Ebixa (memantine). None of these drugs have been shown to reverse Alzheimer's Disease. They only slow the progress of the disease, and only in certain patients. Since 2004, there have been no new medications marketed for the treatment of Alzheimer's Disease.
For the nearly 15 million caregivers of Alzheimer's patients in the U.S., it is understandable that hopes are high for this new treatment. A lack of effective treatment means that some caregivers are desperate for something , regardless of the risks involved. Medical professionals are urging restraint though--bexarotene has never been tested on humans with Alzheimer's Disease, and the side effects of this medication can be significant. Dr. George Grossberg, director of geriatric psychiatry at St. Louis University is not going to be prescribing bexarotene anytime soon. "We don't know if it's safe or effective. I don't think we should be prescribing medications if we have no idea how to use them. It's irresponsible."Continued on the next page