Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Holds Promise for Patients and Caregivers

A cancer drug may remove damaging brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Last week, Dr. Roizen’s wife sent an email with the subject line: ‘Forward Alzheimer’s breakthrough.’ We’ve seen that type of headline before, which usually means BS (Bad Science).

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Holds Promise for Patients and Caregivers

But, a former caregiver of a relative with Alzheimer’s had just written us. This caregiver had gained 60 pounds during that process and developed type 2 diabetes, and wanted advice on reversing her diabetes.

QUIZ: Do You Feel Healthy?

Caregivers—especially caregivers for patients with severe difficulties like those in late stage Alzheimer’s—have to be beautiful.

There are few feelings in the world that surpass knowing you’ve helped someone. It feels good—and is good. So good, in fact, that the effect of altruisms big and small is similar to the so-called runner’s high (the rush of endorphins).

But unlike exercise euphoria, this rush can last a long time. The evidence: 90 percent of people who experience this high give their health condition a better grade than those who don’t. That benefit lasts a while, but the stress of 12 years (the average time from diagnosis to death in Alzheimer’s) of caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s is wearing, and can erode that benefit. And this isn’t a tiny problem—there are more than 10 million caregivers.

But back to that questionable email. While writing back to the caregiver, we opened it, despite our skepticism.  

And we were blown away.

We couldn’t believe the study, and were so encouraged, that we immediately interviewed Paige Cramer, a Ph.D. candidate from Case Western Reserve and the study’s lead author. Her lab had been trying approaches to turn on the ApoE gene (which helps remove brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s) and, in this one, she had made a major breakthrough.

This is how the study worked: Three different mice models of Alzheimer’s disease were treated with Bexarotene, an approved FDA drug (usually used for cancer) given by gavage (pushed down into the stomach of the mice like you’d take a pill); and their beta amyloid plaque melted away. More importantly, the mice had a magnificent return of cognitive function (or at least as best as that can be tested in mice). This was based on a predicted response by the drug in turning on the ApoE gene.

COLUMN: Eating to Prevent Memory Loss

We may find out very quickly if this works in humans, as we already know the toxicity and way to dose this drug. But let’s go back to the start.

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