For now the best way to treat Alzheimer's may be with drugs like Aricept that increase chemical messengers in the brain, but what if a treatment could use the body's own defenses to remove the protein that causes Alzheimer's from the brain before it damages nerves cells? That possibility may soon become a reality according to Dr. Daniel Chain, founder of Intellect Neurosciences.
"For 12 years we have been building a multipronged therapeutic approach designed to stop Alzheimer's disease in its earliest stages and prevent the disease from progressing," says Dr. Chain. Dr. Chain is the son of Ernst Chain who received a Nobel Prize for his work in the discovery of penicillin along with Dr. Alexander Fleming.
"My idea was to attack the problem of Alzheimer's disease at its source by stopping the accumulation of the beta-amyloid protein. This has been accomplished by creating a class of antibodies that attach to the protein and clear it away before it can cause damage to brain cells," explains Dr. Chain. He calls these antibodies "antisenilins" because, like penicillin, they have the potential to prevent or stop the progression of disease.
Dr. Chain's antibodies were developed in animal models and then humanized to be compatible with the human immune system. The most current version of this line of antibodies is a drug called bapineuzumab. There are three major pharmaceutical companies testing this Alzheimer's treatment in humans and the results have been encouraging. The drug has made it through the first two phases of testing required by the FDA and is about to enter the final stage of testing known as phase III trials. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested and hopes are very high.
"By 2012, I expect we will have an antibody-based treatment for Alzheimer's disease that will not just treat the symptoms, but will actually be able to control or prevent the disease itself."- Dr. Daniel G. Chain
No matter what treatment you take for Alzheimer's disease, early diagnosis is important. The first area of the brain that becomes affected by Alzheimer's is the part that controls memory. "In some rare types of genetic Alzheimer's, disease symptoms can start as early as age 40, but for most people Alzheimer's is a disease of aging. The chances of developing Alzheimer's doubles every five years after age 65," notes Chain.
"The most important symptom is a persistent problem with short-term memory and the processing of new information," says Dr. Martin R. Farlow, vice-chairman of research in the neurology department at Indiana University School of Medicine. Here are some of the symptoms that might be early warnings for Alzheimer's disease:
If you or a loved one struggles with any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It can be difficult at first to tell the difference between Alzheimer's and normal aging. There is no laboratory test for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, but doctors can accurately diagnose Alzheimer's 90 percent of the time by evaluating thinking and memory skills.
Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but there are drugs that can slow down the symptoms and buy time. That's important because new treatments that may control or even prevent the disease may be just around the corner. Don't let Alzheimer's disease get ahead of you. If you are worried about Alzheimer's the time to talk to your doctor is now.