Progress Made on Alzheimer's

Illustration representing Alzheimer's Disease
Tampa, FL -

Researchers at the University of South Florida recently garnered international attention for developing a skin patch delivery system for an Alzheimer's vaccine.

In lab tests, the vaccine has been shown to break up a type of plaque which collects in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. But early clinical trials ran into trouble when some patients had problems with the injections.

That's why USF's discovery of a skin patch delivery system is seen as so significant.

Researchers at the the USF College of Medicine, the Memory Disorder Clinic, the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer's Center and the Suncoast Gerontology Center are all busy working on finding new Alzheimer's therapies.

Dr. David Morgan directs the Alzheimer Research Laboratory at USF.

MORGAN: It's a very exciting time. I go to three or four international scientific meetings on Alzheimer's a year, and at each one of these there is progress. We're starting to see more and more initial results from clinical trials that are showing some benefit.

Teresa Mitchum visits to USF clinics on a regular basis with her 89-year-old mother Sarah, who has taken part in some of USF's clinical trials.

TERESA MITCHUM: One of the reasons I continue to bring my mother to USF after she was diagnosed in 2000 is because they are on cutting edge of research and every time I come I always learn something new about the research that's going on and we've even had an opportunity to participate in some of the clinical trials. So I understand that most of the medications now slow the progression of the disease and what we're looking forward to is something that either prevents the plaque in the brain from forming, but it'll be a long time before they find something that reverses it but at least something that can prevent it or make it manageable.

Researchers have discovered a form of plaque made up of an amyloid protein. That's a sticky substance which essentially clogs neural pathways in the brains of people with Alzheimer's.

Dr. Sam Gandy is an expert on amyloid plaque with the National Alzheimer's Association. He says the research on the plaque may lead to further advances and, eventually, to a cure.

GANDY: We are looking now for tests that we could use as surveillance the same way we use PSA for prostate cancer and mammogram for breast cancer so that when people reach a certain age, periodically they would have an amyloid brain scan to see whether they're starting to build up amyloid in the brain and if so, start on some medication.

Researchers say reversing the damage to the brain or 'curing' the disease is not likely in the short term. But, Dr. Morgan says he's optimistic that recent advances will make Alzheimer's a more 'manageable' condition.

MORGAN: It's likely that Alzheimer's will end up being treated very much as we treat heart disease. It's not going to be that overnight somebody comes up with 'the cure.' We're going to see a series of gradual improvements in our ability to reduce the symptoms, to slow the disease progression to overcome the problems that are created by the disease with other types of therapies.

Whether it's a cure, a vaccine or merely a drug to make life easier for Alzheimer's patients, it can't come too soon. The American Medical Association projects the number of Alzheimer's patients will increase from about 4 million to nearly 15 million over the next 40 years.

To find out more about this topic, visit the web site of the National Alzheimer's Association, at http://www.alz.org and the USF Alzheimer Research Laboratory, at hsc.usf.edu/medicine/pharmacology/

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