ALZHEIMER’S: New Studies Aimed at Prevention
The National Institute on Aging is launching a large-scale trial to see if certain drugs can slow the slide of memory loss from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer's. More than 700 Americans and Canadians ages 55 to 90 with MCI -- who have problems with memory but not the confusion, disorientation and resulting social difficulties of Alzheimer's patients -- will receive a placebo, Vitamin E or Pfizer's Aricept, one of only two FDA-approved Alzheimer's drugs. The Los Angeles Times reports that "researchers hope the Vitamin E treatment will delay onset of the disease by at least a year and sustain mental viability for as long as five years," which could save "more than $100 billion by 2050" (Sherman, 3/16). The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that "12% of people with MCI develop Alzheimer's each year, compared with 1% to 2% of the general population age 65 and older."
Making It Possible
The trial was enabled by a recent Mayo Clinic study that made it possible to diagnose MCI definitively. Mayo researchers gave participants "a battery of neurological tests to evaluate memory, language skills and intelligence, among other factors. People with MCI consistently scored below the control group on memory tests, but compared favorably on others" and were able to "handle daily activities. Alzheimer's patients performed poorly on all tests" (Burcum, 3/16). Study leader Dr. Ronald Peterson said, "We can now differentiate people who meet the criteria for mild cognitive impairment from healthy people and from those with mild Alzheimer's disease." Potential volunteers for the NIA study can call 888/455-0655, or visit the study's Web site. (Knox, Boston Globe, 3/16). Peterson concluded: "I think it's premature to say that we can prevent or reverse the damage that's done with Alzheimer['s] disease, but even by delaying, this has an enormous impact on the individuals themselves, their families, as well as society in general" ("Good Morning America," ABC, 3/16).
USA Today reports that another study, sponsored by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, will study whether MCI patients ages 55 to 85 benefit from the company's drug Exelon. Like Aricept, the drug "increases levels of acetylcholine, a key brain chemical depleted by Alzheimer's disease." And Merck & Co. is sponsoring a study, also involving MCI patients, to see if its COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx can prevent or delay Alzheimer's. Finally, the NIA is "recruiting 900 healthy women 65 and older who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer's" to see if hormone replacement therapy is effective in reducing risk (Rubin, 3/16).