New drug could help improve dementia diagnosis rates

by MichelleR on April 16, 2012

New drug could help improve dementia diagnosis rates

A new drug was announced by the American Academy of Neurology on April 16th 2012 to help doctors to detect beta amyloid earlier. Beta amyloid is the “bad” protein associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This new drug will be able to find small traces of beta amyloid so medication treatment can start sooner to help prevent plaque buildup in the brain. The process involves a PET scan, which is a brain scan, using the new drug florbetaben as a tracer. Florbetaben acts as a dye to identify the beta amyloid protein build up in the brain. The study for this drug was tested with 200 end-of-life patients, with and without dementia and 60 brain region autopsies from healthy volunteers. The results showed that by using florbetaben to detect beta-amyloid successfully identified that 77% were positive diagnoses and 94% negative diagnoses (

The Alzheimer’s Society commented by stating “only 43 percent of people with the condition ever get a diagnosis, meaning hundreds of thousands of people are left struggling alone in the dark…This drug research looks positive but was carried out in people with later stage Alzheimer’s. We will need to see if it can be converted into a useable and cost effective diagnostic tool to detect very early signs” (Dr. Anne Corbett, Research Manager, Alzheimer’s Society).

There’s potentially good news to share in the fight against an incurable disease that affects as many as 5.4 million Americans. A new drug candidate may be the first capable of halting the mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease, based on the findings of a study by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. (

When given to mice with Alzheimer’s, the drug – known as J147 – improved memory and prevented brain damage caused by the incurable disease. The new compound could be tested for treatment of the disease in humans in the near future, according to researchers.

The broad ability of J147 to protect nerve cells causes researchers to believe that it also may be effective for treating other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease, as well as stroke.

The Salk team developed methods for using living neurons grown in laboratory dishes to test whether or not new synthetic compounds were effective at protecting the brain cells against several pathologies associated with brain aging.

One of the developed methods tested was the lead compound which was originally developed for treatment of stroke and traumatic brain injury was able to be used to alter its chemical structure to make a much more potent Alzheimer’s drug.

With this promising lead compound in hand, the researchers shifted to testing J147 as an oral medication in mice. Working with Amanda Roberts, a professor of molecular neurosciences at The Scripps Research Institute, they conducted a range of behavioral tests that showed that the drug improved memory in normal rodents.

The Salk researchers went on to show that the J147 prevented cognitive decline in animals with Alzheimer’s and that mice and rats treated with the drug produced more of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a molecule that protects neurons from toxic insults, helps new neurons grow and connect with other brain cells, and is involved in memory formation.

Basically, in Alzheimer’s patients, plaques develop from beta-amyloid, the “bad” protein, blocks neurotransmitters from receiving messages in the brain. This results in loss in brain mass and deterioration of brain cells. The BDNF caused by J147, continues to keep the lines of brain connection open and prevent the brain cells from dying.

Other drugs that can slow the growth of Alzheimer’s include Aricept and Exelon. These drugs help prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine functions in both the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and in the central nervous system (CNS) as a neuromodulator. It binds the neuron pathways to what controls our muscle movement, to make us run smoothly.


 [Salk scientists develop J147, a synthetic drug shown to improve memory and prevent brain damage in mice with Alzheimer’s disease. (Image: Courtesy of Salk Institute for Biological Studies)]

Home Instead Senior Care® provides ready –to-help resources such as “Help for Alzheimer’s Families” at[Alzheimer’s Disease or Other Dementias CARE: Changing Aging Through Research and EducationSM Training Program], which includes free Family Caregiver Training. For more on “Potential Alzheimer’s Drug,” check out the April 2012 Senior Advisor.

by C.Jamieson

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