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Published on: October 31, 2014
by Isabel Mascareñas for USA Today:
A discovery by a group of Florida researchers is giving Alzheimer’s patients hope after a common blood pressure medication shows the possibility of targeting a new drug treatment for the disease.
Scientists at the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota, Fla., have discovered a common enzyme in all three known triggers of the disease. The enzyme is shut off by the key chemical in Nilvadipine, a blood pressure medication used overseas for the last 20 years.
“We would be optimistic that this would be a treatment that would slow or halt the progression of the disease,” said Fiona Crawford, president and CEO of Roskamp Institute, and one of the authors of the study published online Oct. 20 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. It is scheduled for the print edition of the journal in December.
Roskamp scientists say until now, drugs have been able to target one of the three disease triggers at a time, either the beta amyloid buildup in the brain known as plaque, the inflammation or a protein called tau.
“Because it targets all three pathologies instead of a single pathology, we have increased enthusiasm it might show positive effect,” Crawford said.
She said Roskamp’s discovery gives researchers a new target to develop new drugs and the connection to the blood pressure medication makes sense.
“We know cholesterol, hypertension and other vascular factors do raise our risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.2 million Americans, or 1 in 9 adults over the age of 65. The number of cases is expected to triple in the next 35 years as Baby Boomers age.
For Susan Charnas whose husband, Elliott, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago, this is welcome news.
“I was elated, just elated this might be something, because right now there’s nothing,” said Susan Charnas.
Alzheimer’s has taken some of Elliott Charnas’ memories of their 49 years of marriage.
“To him it’s frustrating, depressing, ridden with anxiety about what will be the next loss,” Charnas said.
Elliot, 73, used to run a business and now has trouble figuring out his calendar.
“This is terribly frustrating to him, because he knows he’s lost it. He knows he can no longer do the things he valued and he was valued for. So he doesn’t feel he is of value at all,” Susan said.
Scientists began their study 10 years ago to see whether Nilvadipine helped combat the plaque buildup in the brain. Scientists then realized the drug also suppressed another trigger — the inflammation in the brain — and that’s when they tested the chemical on the third trigger, the tau protein. It worked, too.
Scientists started breaking down the molecule structure of the three triggers to see which components of the triggers reacted to the drug. They found one enzyme called syk, or spleen tyrosine kinase, crossed all three.
Clinical trials are underway involving 500 patients in nine European countries. If successful, scientists say there could be a drug within five years.
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