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Health and Medicine




Exploradio - Hope for Alzheimer's
It effects virtually everyone, either through a loved one, a friend, or our older selves.  Alzheimer's is the biggest area of unmet need in medicine, and the focus of intense research in Cleveland.
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Paige Cramer and Gary Landreth have formed a company called RexCeptor to run clinical trials for their new Alzheimer's drug. They're hopeful it will work. But many promising treatments have failed in the long fight against the disease.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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Right now, hundreds of clinical trials are underway testing every potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.  Few, if any, will be successful.  Still, researchers at Case Western Reserve University are hopeful that, despite a field littered with failed attempts, their approach will combat the incurable disease.

In this week’s Exploradio, we meet a team on the frontlines in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Exploradio - Hope for Alzheimer's

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Reversing dementia in mice
Paige Cramer is a newly minted Ph.D working in Gary Landreth’s Alzeimer’s lab at Case.  She’s talking about mice that are bred to develop the disease.  These mice, as they age, forget familiar smells, lose their natural fear and stop doing what mice love best -- shredding paper.  

“They don’t make a nest. In fact, they don’t know what to do with the pieces of pressed paper.”

But when Cramer gave these Alzheimer’s mice a dose of the drug bexarotene:

“They actually began to return this affiliative behavior of making nests.”

A new use for bexarotene
Bexarotene is not a new drug. It’s been used for more than a decade to treat a form of skin cancer. But Landreth and his team have uncovered its potential for treating Alzheimer’s.

“If humans are like mice, or vice versa, we may have a drug which appears might be effective in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Their breakthrough didn’t come easy. First of all no one knows exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease.  Doctor Alois Alzheimer first described the disease in 1906, and he was the first to implicate the build-up of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid as causing the fatal decline he saw in his patient.

Gary Landreth agrees, even though he says amyloid is a normal part of brain function.

“As you’re talking to me, we are producing amyloid --  these small sticky peptides -- as a normal consequence of electrical behavior in the brain.”

Landreth says the problem is that as we get older our brains become less efficient at clearing away the amyloid gunk.

“Just like everything else in aging, some of us will perform this function less efficiently.  Amyloid accumulates in the brain, it poisons the communication systems between neurons, and this underlies the cognitive deficits.”

The breakthrough 
Landreth’s breakthrough in developing a new treatment for Alzheimer’s came after a decade of work unlocking the genetic causes of the disease. 

He targeted a variant of the gene called ApoE that occurs in 80 percent of people with Alzheimer’s.  

“We recognized that ApoE was part of a garbage-disposal mechanism, whereby amyloid could be eliminated from the brain. That was the breakthrough.”

Landreth reasoned that a drug that stimulated that gene would aid the removal of amyloid from the brain and reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. That’s what he and his team saw with bexarotene.

But lead researcher Paige Cramer cautions that curing mice is not the same as curing people.

“I would hold off on saying it’s the next treatment for Alzheimer’s disease until we get some data in humans.”

Uncharted territory
Proven or not, in the weeks since their findings were published, Landreth and Cramer have received thousands of calls from people seeking  treatment for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Over the years hundreds of drugs have been tested and none have reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Still Landreth and Cramer feel optimistic enough to form a company, RexCeptor, to run the clinical trials for their Alzheimer’s drug. 

“This is new territory, it’s uncharted, uncharted waters. And it’s not clear exactly how this is going to proceed.”

The team estimates another year of testing the treatment in mice, then several years of trials in humans before the drug, if it works, will be available for Alzheimer’s patients.

For now they refer all inquiries to the Alzheimer's Association at alz.org.


Related Links & Resources
Alzheimer's Association

The Landreth Alzheimer's Lab at Case Western Reserve University

List of clinical trials for Alzheimer's - clinicaltrials.gov


Related WKSU Stories

Promising new treatment for Alzheimer's
Monday, February 13, 2012

Exploradio: Dining on ground sloth in Ohio
Monday, April 7, 2014

Exploradio - Orchid obsessions
Monday, February 20, 2012

Listener Comments:

My partner of 33 years was diagnosed with an advanced stage of Alzheimer's two years ago. He is only 56 years old. I have watched his cognitive ability decline to where he now has trouble, dressing, opening the car door, operating simple electric devices. He does much better when I can be with him to help him (use the mouse on the computer, etc.).
Because of our relatively young ages (I am 55), I need to keep my job and work 5 days a week. This means that he is at home during the day. I don't know how much longer we can continue like this. I'm afraid to explore what long-term care options are available for us. We need the chance that this research could provide. Please help us.


Posted by: Thomas Swinscoe (Akron, OH) on April 9, 2012 11:04AM
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