Sarasota, Florida - A discovery by a group of Sarasota researchers is giving Alzheimer's patients hope after a common blood pressure medication led scientists to this possible breakthrough.
"I was elated, just elated this might be something, because right now there's nothing," says Susan Charnas.
After 49 years of marriage, Susan and her husband have a lot of memories together, but Alzheimer's has stolen a few. Elliot was diagnosed two years ago.
Susan says, "To him it's frustrating, depressing, ridden with anxiety about what will be the next loss."
Elliot has trouble remembering simple functions, too. According to Susan, he will forget having breakfast, or that he read his three favorite newspapers in the morning. He will read them in the afternoon and again in the evening.
"It's like new news to him again," she says.
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," says Susan. As the caregiver she adds, "It's exhausting."
The couple now has hope. Scientists at Sarasota's Roskamp Institute 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 and halt the progression of the disease," says Fiona Crawford, President and CEO of Roskamp Institute.
"[If] we could halt where we are, that would be wonderful," said Susan.
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.
Crawford said, "Because it targets all three pathologies instead of a single pathology, we have increased enthusiasm it might show positive effect."
Crawford says 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," said Crawford.
Scientists began their study 10 years ago to see if 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 they call 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.
Susan says, "It might be ready! Oh my goodness it's so exciting, so exciting. You have to live for a little bit of hope."
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.
The study by the Roskamp Institute will be published in the December issue of The Journal of Biological Chemistry