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So what’s new in potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?

The 2012 Annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in Vancouver attracted well over 4300 delegates and revealed a fascinating pot pourri of much great research being carried out around the globe into Alzheimer’s disease.

One report made international headlines because it indicated that a drug called IVIG (Gammagard, Baxter) produced long-term (three years) stabilisation of Alzheimer’s symptoms in 11 subjects.

The reason this is significant is because firstly up until now, no drug treatment has been shown to stabilise symptoms. Treatments currently available, only slow down the inexorable progression of the disease.

Secondly, this treatment was being conducted on people, not rats or other laboratory animals. Yes, it was a very small study however the results are encouraging and a further trial is currently in progress, with results expected sometime in 2013. So watch this space!

What is IVIG?

IVIG is immunoglobulin, a blood product derived from donors. Immunotherapy is not new: it has been used in the treatment of people with immune deficiency, autoimmune disease and some acute infections. It works by suppressing inflammation.

Immunotherapy has been investigated as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s as some researchers believe that there is an immune component to the cause of the disease. However previous research using anti-inflammatory drugs were shown to be ineffective.

How was the trial run?

Initially 24 participants were given 6 months of treatment of IVIG or placebo over a 6 month period followed by an additional 12 months where all participants received the actual therapy. Variable dosages of IVIG were assessed.

To then assess what the longer-term effects might be, 16 members of the group continued with treatment for a total of 36 months. Five members of this group had originally received the placebo treatment, whilst the other 11 had received the actual drug from the beginning.

The drug was administered as a single dose of 0.4mg/kg every 2 weeks

What did the results show?

Those who received the drug over the entire three-year period did the best in terms of thinking abilities, behaviour and ability to perform activities of daily living.

The group of five who had started out on placebo had continued to deteriorate, but once they started on the IVIG for the following 18 months, the rate of decline slowed while they continued with a steady dose of the treatment.

The good news is that this may proffer hope for those already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as a means to halt the progression of the disease, where there is currently no other real alternative.

The one thing about this line of investigation is that it is still dealing with the after effects, i.e. after the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease has been made. The pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease is known to begin several decades before any actual symptoms ever show. By the time a diagnosis is made significant pathological changes will have already occurred. The Holy Grail must still be to find an effective early diagnostic tool and effective treatment to start before symptoms develop.

There were also many other interesting papers produced at the conference. I’ll be sharing some of these over the next couple of weeks.

Norman Relkin, et al. Three year Follow Up on the IVIG for Alzheimer’s Phase Two Study (Funded by Baxter Healthcare)

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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