Scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging recently demonstrated that memory loss for patients with early Alzheimer’s disease can be reversed — a feat the research team managed through a 36-point approach called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration.
The multidisciplinary program is the first to show that cognitive decline and memory loss can be reversed – changing the foundations of how Alzheimer’s disease is viewed.
The program, described in the journal Aging, is a 36-point personalized approach involving diet changes, vitamin supplements, exercise, better sleep, brain stimulation, specific drugs, and several more steps that effect brain chemistry.
Performed in collaboration with University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, the study involved 10 patients
“All of these patients had either well-defined mild cognitive impairment, subjective cognitive impairment, or had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease before beginning the program,” said first study author Dr. Dale Bredesen, a professor at Buck Institute and Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at UCLA, in a news release.
Improvements in achievements, such as patients returning to work or reporting improved work performance, were mirrored in follow-up tests of patients who had returned to normal cognition levels.
The study, “Reversal of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease,” described a case of a 66-year-old man with mild cognitive impairment evident from a neuropsychiatric evaluation and brain scans for Alzheimer’s disease. In the beginning, the volume of his hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory and learning, was considerably smaller than normal for his age. Ten months following the multidisciplinary program, the hippocampal volume had dramatically increased.
Another 69-year old man was described as an entrepreneur who had struggled with increasing memory loss for 11 years and was about to shut down his business. After six months, the man, his family and colleagues, reported improvement in his daily memory-related activities. He returned to remembering his schedule, recognizing faces and rapidly adding numbers in his head.
Another 16 months in the multidisciplinary program improved his long-term memory up to the 84th percentile, meaning that 84% of people his age had worse memory than his. Instead of shutting down his business, the man started expanding.
Nine of the 10 patients included in the study were considered genetic high-risk cases who carried mutations in the APOE4 gene. Five of them had mutations in both gene copies, placing them in the highest risk group with ten to 12 times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Considering that 65% of Alzheimer’s cases in the U.S. are linked to APOE4 mutations, the results are astonishing.
“We’re entering a new era,” said Bredesen. “The old advice was to avoid testing for APOE because there was nothing that could be done about it. Now we’re recommending that people find out their genetic status as early as possible so they can go on prevention.”
Bredesen was inspired by the success of combination therapies for other chronic diseases such as heart disease or HIV. The intricate network of molecular interactions in Alzheimer’s revealed through decades of worldwide research, now indicates that a single drug is not likely the best option Alzheimer’s disease treatment.
“Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well — the drug may have worked, a single ‘hole’ may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much,” Bredesen said in the press release. “We think addressing multiple targets within the molecular network may be additive, or even synergistic, and that such a combinatorial approach may enhance drug candidate performance, as well.”
Bredesen called the improvements made among the ten study patients “unprecedented” and said the study provides objective evidence that the programmatic approach works.
“Even though we see the far-reaching implications of this success, we also realize that this is a very small study that needs to be replicated in larger numbers at various sites,” Bredesen said.