Alzheimer's Disease: Research

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005
The Cleveland Clinic

Researchers continue to study drugs and other substances as possible treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Well-designed, thorough studies are necessary to give a clear picture of safety and effectiveness before making drugs available to the public.

Alzheimer's disease research is currently being tackled from many sides. Drug companies, the U.S. government, and the Alzheimer's Association are funding research to learn more about the disease and to find treatments that will reduce symptoms and prevent or cure the disease.

One of the most exciting areas of research involves looking at factors -- including aging, family history and genetic causes, past severe head injury, and low education -- that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. These factors can lead to theories about how they produce the abnormalities seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's.

Similarly, looking at factors that reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, like the use of anti-inflammatory medications, other genetic factors, antioxidant therapies, and high education or occupational demand, could aid our understanding of the disease. Because of our increasing understanding of Alzheimer's, many potential therapies are currently being tested or will be tested, or are under development.

What Studies Are Currently Occuring That Evaluate Alzheimer's Disease?

  • Genetic studies in Alzheimer's disease. The purpose of these studies is: 1) to collect information about affected family members about psychological and social factors that may influence the disease, and 2) to get blood and tissue samples from patients, their families, and volunteers without Alzheimer's disease. By evaluating and comparing this information, researchers hope to discover what places people at risk for getting Alzheimer's disease. It may also help researchers uncover a way to screen for the disease early on.
  • Neurotransmitter receptor measurements in elderly people and patients with Alzheimer's disease. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow nerve cells to communicate. We know that one neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, is reduced in patients who have Alzheimer's disease. Comparing how these chemicals function in people with Alzheimer's could provide greater insight into the development of the disease.
  • New Treatment: Nefiracetam. This is a clinical trial to test whether a drug called Nefiracetam can safely improve memory, thinking ability, and daily activities in patients with mild to moderate impairment caused by Alzheimer's disease.
  • New Treatment: Ampalex. This is a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the drug Ampalex in treating Alzheimer's. Early research found that the drug has a positive effect on memory performance.
  • Study of melatonin for sleep problems in Alzheimer's disease.This study is evaluating the effectiveness of the hormone melatonin in alleviating the sleep disturbances often associated with Alzheimer's disease.
  • A trial of Vioxx and naproxen in Alzheimer's disease. This is a clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the anti-inflammatory medicines Vioxx and naproxen (Naprosyn, an over-the- counter medicine) in slowing the progression of mental decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Alzheimer's disease prevention trial. The purpose of this trial is to determine whether the hormone estrogen (or estrogen and progesterone) can delay the onset of memory loss or Alzheimer's disease in elderly women who have family members with the disease.
  • B-amyloid vaccine trial. This trial was evaluating a vaccine that may prevent and even break down clumps of abnormal protein, called amyloid plaques, which accumulate in certain parts of the brain in Alzheimer's patients. However, because the vaccine produced unacceptable side effects, the trial was stopped before completion.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Neuroscience Center.

Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, WebMD, June 2004.

Portions of this page copyright © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004


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