Regular readers of this blog know that my mother suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. That means our entire family suffers from the “long good-bye.” My dad, in particular, has been a saint of a caregiver, but he has watched the love of his life descend into the hell that strips them both of their quality of life.
You can imagine my excitement at seeing a headline about a reversal for Alzheimer’s disease!
As I read the story, I learned that an 81 year old gentleman with well-documented Alzheimer’s disease had been given a shot of Enbrel (a drug approved only for arthritis) directly into his neck, and within 10 minutes he regained a great deal of his cognitive capacity. Six months later, with additional shots, he has retained this improved memory. His family, as we can only imagine, was ecstatic.
But, of course, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. So I got in touch with my Alzheimer’s point person, Dr. Sharon Brangman, a geriatrician and aging expert. I was able to interview her yesterday for my radio show. The interview will be aired this weekend.
Bottom line? It’s always wise to look behind headlines of studies — and this one is a good example. While Dr. Brangman does believe that there are seeds of good news here, there are a number of questions, too. Here are a few of them — enough to raise an eyebrow:
- This test was done on only one person. The injection has been attempted with others, and presumably they improved, too. But many, many more people would need to show similar improvement to suggest this is a step forward for Alzheimer’s patients in general.
- The journal which published the account of the experiment is the Journal of Neuroinflammation which is so small, Dr. Brangman had not heard of it. She questioned why something seemingly so huge was not published in a larger, better known professional journal, such as the New England Journal of Medicine.
- The chief researcher owns stock in the company that makes Enbrel, and is trying to patent the way the injection is administered.
Bottom line? The actual science behind the idea of reducing inflammation is bonafide — and it’s an exciting approach to attacking the inflammation of the brain, which may improve cognitive function in many others.
Is it worth being encouraged? Absolutely.
Is it something we’ll begin to see more information about? Most probably.
Is it a cure for Alzheimer’s? Probably not a cure, but perhaps a new approach to treating the symptoms of dementia and worth keeping an eye on.
Wise patients understand that medical news can yield all kinds of information, but reading behind the headlines provides much more information about their validity and whether or not they apply to our own medical problems or those of our loved ones.
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