woman with Alzheimer's disease

BWH researchers are looking at new treatment options for Alzheimer's disease.

Imagine that in the next three-to-five years you will go from being fully independent to needing help with dressing, eating, and other basic activities of daily living. Now imagine that you are given a medication that will enable you to retain your current skills, even improve a little. But, in six-to-nine months, you will likely begin to decline again. This is the life of someone who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Less than a handful of medications for Alzheimer’s disease are currently approved by the FDA. By and large, most people who take these medications see an improvement in their memory, other thinking abilities, daily functioning, and behavior for a short time, and then go on to experience further decline,” says Dr. Gad Marshall, a behavioral neurologist in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment who is focusing on clinical trials of new treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease.

Newer drug treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease in development involve the use of disease-modifying agents, which work to stop or reverse the disease processes. At BWH, Dr. Marshall is currently leading a clinical trial that is open to enrollment. The trial is evaluating bapineuzumab (pronounced bap΄ ee nue˝ zoo mab), a passive vaccine that works against amyloid (protein deposits in the brain that are believed to be a primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease). Designed to attach to the amyloid protein, bapineuzumab has demonstrated in earlier studies that it helps to clear amyloid from the brain. Researchers are hoping that it will help stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

Dr. Marshall expects that additional clinical trials of new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease will open later this year, including examining the use of these medications in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is an early stage of memory loss and is believed to be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Researchers theorize that medications given during earlier stages of the disease may prove to be more effective over a longer period of time.

Additional studies at the Center are using advanced brain imaging and spinal fluid to detect important changes in the brain before symptoms appear, to follow disease progression among people with MCI and early Alzheimer’s disease dementia, and to assess and follow people with a genetic predisposition to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (which generally begins before age 60 in this group).

“We hope that these tools will help us discover new ways to preserve memory, function, and overall quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease – and give them more time to live independently without significant memory issues,” says Dr. Reisa Sperling, Director of the BWH Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment.

Hope and time. These are words that five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease – along with their families – know very well.

– Jessica F.

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