DiversityNursing Blog

Alzheimer's Drugs In The Works Might Treat Other Diseases, Too

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Jul 20, 2015 @ 01:34 PM

Contributor: Marissa Garey and Jon Hamilton

NPR 

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Ongoing efforts to find a suitable treatment for Alzheimer’s disease are finally looking up. What’s more, this same treatment may target a variety of brain disorders and diseases. Thanks to the biotechnology company, Treventis, there is hope for a daily pill to either stop or lessen the harm of Alzheimer’s disease. Treventis is approaching their research from a new perspective: rather than focusing on a sole protein, they are targeting two toxic proteins. While this research is promising enough, additional companies including Neurophage Pharmaceuticals, are deserving of accolades as well for their impressive efforts toward a potential treatment.

Efforts to find a treatment for Alzheimer's disease have been disappointing so far. But there's a new generation of drugs in the works that researchers think might help not only Alzheimer's patients, but also people with Parkinson's disease and other brain disorders.

Previous efforts to treat Alzheimer's have focused on a single target — usually the protein called beta-amyloid, says Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "The one-target approach is probably not going to be the answer," Carrillo says.

Instead, several teams of scientists reporting their work at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington, D.C., this week are targeting a process in the brain that leads to toxins involved in several different diseases.

The biotechnology company Treventis is working on one of these potential drugs.

"Our ultimate goal is to discover a pill that can be taken once a day that could either stop or slow Alzheimer's disease," says Marcia Taylor, the company's director of biological research. Treventis hopes to do that with a drug that prevents the build-up of two toxic proteins.

These toxic substances, called beta-amyloid and tau, are the result of a process that begins when a healthy protein inside a brain cell somehow gets folded into the wrong shape.

"Sometimes it gets what I call a kink," Taylor says. Then, when the misfolded protein meets another protein floating around in the cell, "It kind of grabs onto that protein and they both kink up together," she says.

That can trigger a chain reaction that produces clumps of misfolded beta-amyloid and tau proteins that damage brain cells.

"And our compound — because it targets protein misfolding — is actually able to prevent both beta-amyloid and tau from making these clumps," Taylor says. The compound works in a test tube and is currently being tested in animals, she says.

Another potential new treatment could help people with Parkinson's and a disease called Lewy body dementia, as well as those with Alzheimer's.

Previous efforts to treat those diseases have focused on differences in the proteins thought to cause them, says Fernando Goni of New York University. "So what we said is, 'Do they have something in common?' "

The common element is proteins that misfold and then form toxic clumps. Goni and his colleagues decided to go after these clumps, without worrying about which protein they contain. The result is a class of monoclonal antibodies that work like guided missiles to find and neutralize protein clumps in brain cells.

Previous experiments showed that the monoclonal antibodies work on the tau and amyloid clumps associated with Alzheimer's. Studies in mice show that the treatment can reverse symptoms of the disease, Goni says.

"We took animals that already had the disease and we infused them with the monoclonals and after a couple of months they were almost as perfect as the normal mice of that age," he says. Goni also presented evidence at the meeting that these targeted antibodies work on clumps associated with Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia, too.

Perhaps the most unusual potential new treatment for Alzheimer's comes from Neurophage Pharmaceuticals, a company that owes its existence to an accidental discovery.

A few years ago, Beka Solomon, a researcher in microbiology and biotechnology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, realized that a virus she was using for another purpose seemed to reverse Alzheimer's in mice. So she continued to study the virus, says Richard Fisher, the chief scientific officer of Neurophage.

"Meanwhile, her son, who had just spent 10 years in Israeli special forces, goes to Harvard Business School," Fisher says. "He needs a project. And he and another colleague at the business school put together a potential company based on [his mother's] discovery."

In 2008, that potential company became Neurophage. "I was the first employee and I thought, 'Wow, this is really crazy,' " Fisher says.

But it wasn't. Scientists were able to figure out how the virus was attacking Alzheimer's plaques and use that information to create a treatment.

And in mice, that treatment appears to work against both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, Fisher says. The company plans to begin testing its treatment in people in early 2016.

Topics: alzheimers, neuroscience, monoclonal antibodies, Parkinson's Disease

Music Ignites Lost Memories in 'Good-News' Film

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Jul 21, 2014 @ 01:18 PM

By Kim Painter

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Music has an unmatched power to bring back our pasts. But what if our memories have been lost to Alzheimer's or some other condition? Can music still work its magic?

A new film, Alive Inside, says yes. The film, opening Friday in New York, features the work of Dan Cohen, a New York social worker who started taking personalized iPods to people with dementia in nursing homes several years ago. Cohen's non-profit Music & Memory got a huge boost in 2012 when an early clip from the film, featuring a gentleman named Henry, became an online sensation. It has been viewed more than 10 million times at various websites, filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett says.

In the clip, Henry, then 94, is shown slumped and unresponsive in a wheelchair – until a nursing home worker places a set of headphones over his ears. Henry comes alive. He scats along with Cab Calloway and sings a soulful I'll Be Home for Christmas. The music "gives me the feeling of love, romance," he says.

Henry has since passed away, but that clip is one big reason that the Music & Memory program is in 640 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, Cohen says. He says he won't be satisfied until personalized iPods – loaded with music especially chosen for each participant – are in all 16,000 U.S. nursing homes, available to all 1.6 million residents.

"Ninety-nine percent of these people are still sitting around and doing nothing all day when they could be rocking to their music," he says.

The reasons for Cohen's passion become clear in what Rossato-Bennett dubs "the only good-news film ever made about Alzheimer's." In segment after segment, people with Alzheimer's and other conditions don the headphones, hear the music of their youths and light up. A World War II veteran named John dances in his chair as the Andrews Sisters sing Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Another man holds his wife's hands and sings a duet of Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. An agitated woman becomes serene as she dances to strains of Schubert.

Such scenes are interspersed with comments from doctors, including the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who says, "Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus." Others talk about the need to reconnect with lonely, inactive and neglected elders, in and out of nursing homes.

Viewers might come away with the idea that a skillfully loaded iPod is a proven and universally effective cure for all that. In fact, the first big study of Music & Memory is just getting underway in Wisconsin, as part of a state-funded rollout in 200 nursing homes. Researchers will look at whether the approach improves social engagement and reduces agitation, anxiety and depression, say University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers Jung Kwak and Michael Brondino. The study won't focus on memory but will look at overall effects on dementia, Brondino says. One thing they know, he says, is that staffs and patients "absolutely love this program."

The program, which relies on families and aides to work with patients, should not be confused with formal music therapy delivered by professionals trained in that discipline, says Alicia Clair, professor of music education and therapy at the University of Kansas.

Still, she says, "it's a wonderful thing" for many people. Caregivers need to know, she says, that not everyone will respond and that some people can even respond negatively. A song that stirs up sadness or anger might do more harm than good, she says.

Cohen says, "This is not a cure for Alzheimer's, and this does not work for everybody." But, he says, it is something just about anyone can try – something that might open up a whole lost world.

Cohen's tips for setting up an individualized music program and for donating used iPods to the program are at musicandmemory.org.

Alive Inside will open in theaters and be shown in film festivals around the country through mid-September.

Source: http://www.usatoday.com

Topics: music, alzheimers, memories, film, Dan Cohen, social worker, dementia

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