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

Google Glass Improves Parkinson's Symptoms

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Jun 10, 2015 @ 02:49 PM

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Here’s an interesting option for people with Parkinson’s Disease to cope with the motor skills challenges they face every day. It’s another example of technology improving people’s lives.

Parkinson's Disease is a nervous system disorder that affects a person's movement. The most common sign of this disease is hand tremors. Other signs like stiffness or slow movement can also be common. Parkinson's Disease has symptoms that will worsen with progression of the condition over time. This disease has no cure but, medications or physical therapy programs can help improve symptoms. 

Google Glass was a failure. At least, according to most people. But not for one specific group: people with Parkinson's. They've been experimenting with new software for Glass and say that it improves the quality of their lives.

People suffering from Parkinson's have challenges with their motor skills. Joy Esterberg, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2003, compares the feeling to moving through mud. She was an early adopter of the Glass software, which has been in development for the last year. 

"It is very sci-fi," Esterberg said of Glass. "What I like about it is that I can wear it at home. You have the little screen, you see David dancing, and you can follow the moves." 

She's talking about David Leventhal, the director of the Mark Morris Dance Group's Dance for PD program, which has been offering free dance classes for people with Parkinson's since 2001.

When a user activates Glass, they can choose from a variety of different exercises, like "warm me up" or "balance me." Once selected, they see Leventhal or one of his co-teachers projected in front of them. 

This technology is especially important because when people with Parkinson's walk down the street, they sometimes freeze up. In order to get going again, they often need to watch someone else's movements or footsteps. This can be problematic, especially if there's no one around.

The software, called Moving Through Glass, is based off exercises done in Leventhal's weekly class. The movements have roots in ballet and modern dance, and include a lot of extension exercises, which are particularly helpful for people with Parkinson's. Some students are very mobile, while others are confined to wheelchairs and exercise with assistance. 

To get the Glass project going, Leventhal applied for a $25,000 Google (GOOG) grant. He got it, and then partnered with SS+K, a New-York based advertising agency with a strong focus on social responsibility. It developed the software for free through its innovation lab.

Though still in the pilot stage, it's hoped that the software will make people with Parkinson's more independent and confident when they go outside. 

"It's surprisingly un-weird," Esterberg said. "In New York, nobody is going to look at you if you have something on your face. You'd have to have orange feathers sticking out of it for people to notice." 

More and more of the students in her dance class will be using Glass as part of the program. There are about 50 people who attend each week in Brooklyn, and it's known as a place for camaraderie and acceptance. 

"Everyone comes to dance class for a reason," Leventhal said. "Some people come to escape Parkinson's. Some people come because they want to work on specific skills related to balance or coordination or musicality."

There isn't data on how successful the class has been, but Levanthal said he sees it in students' stories. One student, he said, had been able to dance at a family member's wedding thanks to the class. Esterberg said she dances better now than she did before Parkinson's because she practices every day. 

For now, the Glass software is still in the early stages, and the dance studio has 25 pairs available for students to borrow. However, the future is uncertain because Google stopped selling Glass earlier this year, saying it will focus on future incarnations. 

Whatever Glass 2.0 looks like, Leventhal said his students will have a lot of feedback and, no matter what, they'll still be dancing. Esterberg certainly will be, and said she hopes more people will see that a diagnosis doesn't have to mean giving up. 

"You can do new things," she said. "You don't have to just accept [that Parkinson's is] the end of everything. Because it really isn't."

Contributor: Jillian Eugenios and Erica Bettencourt

Story Source: CNN

Topics: innovation, medical technology, health, healthcare, patients, Google Glass, Parkinson's Disease

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