Health Team

New drug aims to make Alzheimer's a distant memory

Posted July 29, 2008 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2008 10:20 p.m. EDT

— Alzheimer's disease is robbing Bonnie Lowe of her memories, but the 89-year-old has not given up.

She has joined a new study to take a drug called Bapineuzamab – an Alzheimer's vaccine.

“I want to be like I used to be,” Lowe said.

Currently, the only way to treat Alzheimer's is by using memory-boosting medications. However, the drugs don't do anything to correct the underlying cause of the disease, doctors say.

Doctors said they hope the new vaccine-type therapy will accomplish that. Neurologist Dr. Bruce Kohrman, with Miami Research Associates, is studying the drug.

“It's whole new world of treatment. It's a whole new avenue of treatment,” he said.

During Alzheimer's, protein plaque builds up around the neurons of the brain, which disrupts brain function. The new drug triggers the body's own immune system to dissolve those plaques.

In early studies, some patients given the drug had improved memory and better concentration.

“The results of the Phase II trial are exciting, and they're encouraging,” Kohrman said.

Doctors will start testing Bapineuzamab on a much larger group of patients to see if the promising results hold up.

“We want to give patients and their families more quality time together,” Kohrman said.

If results in patients like Lowe are positive, it could change the way Alzheimer's is treated.

“It's wonderful if I can get any help with my memory. I really appreciate that,” she said.

Two testing sites for the Alzheimer's vaccine in North Carolina that are recruiting patients are Raleigh Neurology and Duke University Medical Center.

Approximately 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and that number is increasing. It's the seventh-leading cause of death.