Drug Pushes Back Onset of Alzheimer's
USA TODAY - July 19, 2004
People with mild but measurable memory
problems who took the drug donepezil, trademarked
Aricept, delayed the onset of Alzheimers disease
by an average of half a year, a study presented Sunday
The study indicates that the drug works for just a
short time and then stops. Still, the report, presented
at the ninth International Conference on Alzheimers
Disease and Related Disorders in Philadelphia, is
the first to find a drug therapy that delays the onset
of Alzheimers in people at high risk for the
disease. The finding doesnt take researchers
any closer to the long-elusive cure for Alzheimers,
but its an important step.
This gives us hope that intervention in
the early stages will help, says Ronald
Petersen, lead investigator of the study. It was paid
for by the National Institute on Aging.
The 769 people in the study had mild cognitive impairment,
a condition that puts people at high risk of developing
Alzheimers. Roughly 4.8 million Americans have
mild cognitive impairment, which usually strikes people
over 60. Another 4.5 million people in the USA have
Unlike the occasional forgetfulness that affects nearly
everyone as they get older, people with mild cognitive
impairment have frequent memory lapses. They might
ask the same question over and over or forget important
appointments. An Alzheimers patient suffers
from more severe memory lapses and other symptoms,
such as confusion.
In some cases, research suggests that people with
mild cognitive impairment already have the underlying
brain damage that is characteristic of Alzheimers.
The brain compensates for that early injury so people
can still function on the job and at home. But some
research suggests that its only a matter of
time before people with this condition progress to
Petersen, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
Minn., and his colleagues gave one-third of the group
donepezil, a drug currently approved for Alzheimers
disease. One-third were given vitamin E, an antioxidant
thought to help people with Alzheimers by blocking
free radicals, molecules that can damage the brain.
The rest were given a placebo, or dummy pill.
After three years, only donepezil offered an advantage:
Among people who ultimately got the disease, the drug
pushed back the onset of Alzheimers by about
Vitamin E had no effect on the disease progression.
Delaying the disease, even briefly, offers patients
and families the advantage of time: time to plan for
the more serious symptoms of the disease, which can
make routine tasks such as paying bills impossible,
says Bill Thies, a spokesman for the Chicago-based
Experts stop short of recommending donepezil for everyone
with mild cognitive impairment. But people with the
condition who are at high risk might want to ask their
doctor about taking the drug, which can be prescribed
even though it is not approved for this condition,
Still, donepezil, and the other drugs of its class,
are powerless to stop the Alzheimers damage
that ultimately destroys the brain.
Drugs under development now might be able to prevent
or even reverse such damage, says Neil Buckholtz of
the National Institute on Aging. But such therapies
wont be available for at least five years.
Were looking for compounds that
delay the onset entirely, he says. We
dont have that yet.
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