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Monday, Nov. 9, 2015

Treating Alzheimer’s

Researchers working to evolve effective measures

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, is a nervous system disease affecting memory. While there are various treatments to help with some symptoms of Alzheimer’s, few are effective, and no cure exists.

Researchers, including LSU Health Sciences Center Professor Dr. J. Steven Alexander, are working to change that.

“There are very few effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, and none represent a cure,” Alexander said, “We may be able to have a significant effect on disease progression.”

Alexander, a member of the department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology’s faculty, has worked with Boston-area based Aphios Corporation on developing a new drug for Alzheimer’s for over five years. The team recently earned a patent for treating Alzheimer’s with oral Bryostatin-1.

In studies with mice, Alexander and other researchers are working to reverse the effects of the disease. They’re also working to connect the effects of traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s.

Alexander said with 3.5 percent of the population will at some time get some head injury, and the connection between TBI and Alzheimer’s is a growing concern. TBIs not only affect professional boxers and NFL players; average people suffer from head trauma more often than they may realize.

“Sports injuries are only a small percentage of people who have head injuries. We’re going to continue to have people with traumatic brain injuries,” Alexander said, noting that driving a car, can put people at greater risk for suffering from a TBI. That’s why they’re working to develop drugs that will help people who have suffered a TBI.

“No wants to live in the shadow of dementia because of a brain injury,” he said.

Byrostatin-1, the primary compound of the drug that Alexander and his fellow researchers recently received a patent for, is found a marine animal off the coast of southern California. It’s expensive to obtain, as divers have to collect the drug. Alexander, a diver himself, hopes to join the efforts.

“My life dream is to go collect this stuff,” he said. As the drug is expensive now, Alexander said they are working to find ways to make the drug more affordable and widely accessible.

This research isn’t limited to the United States. Alexander, along with other U.S. researchers such as Dr. Guohong Li, associate professor neurosurgery and physiology at LSU Health Shreveport, and international players, such as Dr. Mat Daemen of the University of Amsterdam, are working to establish a multinational collaborative involving animal studies.

Alexander said Alzheimer’s clearly has links with the cardiovascular system, meaning the system that carries blood and lymph throughout the body. Researchers are working to further understand this connection.

As people wait for new treatments to become more affordable and readily available, there are preventative measures that can help. Alexander said blood pressure and diabetes contribute to Alzheimer’s, so maintaining appropriate glucose and healthy blood pressure control may help. As TBI serves as a connection to Alzheimer’s, avoiding head injuries is critical, so head protection is essential riding a bike or playing sports. Alexander said that by the year 2050, up to 35 to 40 million people will have Alzheimer’s, making the disease an unavoidable and enormous healthcare issue. The key he said is largely to lower risk factors.

A deadly combination for developing Alzheimer’s disease is heart disease and diabetes, he said. Heart disease can be best avoided by regular exercise and eating a healthy diet, high in vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruit and protein. To avoid heart disease, you should eliminate foods that are high in fat, starches and sugar. Quitting smoking and losing weight also helps. Though Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that cannot be avoided, Type 2 diabetes results from lifestyle choices, so to avoid Type 2 diabetes, one should again also eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, maintaining healthy glucose levels is key. Alexander explained once one has Alzheimer’s, the damage cannot presently be reversed. Though developing treatments are working to slow or limit the disease’s progression, they cannot undo what the disease has already done.

more information:

Talk with a doctor about eliminating risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s or go to alz.org for more information on living with Alzheimer’s or supporting a loved one.

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