Mind Matters: Personalized drug cocktails may reverse Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s epidemic continues to cast a shadow over the lives of millions of people. With no effective treatment currently available, this devastating neurodegenerative disease relentlessly erodes the memories and cognitive abilities of those afflicted.

Despite decades of research, we have yet to discover a cure or disease-modifying therapy that can halt its progression. But researchers believe they are closer than ever before to finding effective treatments.

John Struckhoff has watched his wife of 50 years fade away. There’s been very little help for patients like Lynn, until now.

“We’re deteriorating. I mean, we’re on a downhill slide,” John said.

“There have been several new drugs recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating Alzheimer’s disease,” explained Huntington Potter, a University of Colorado Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center neurologist. “What these do is to attack the amyloid deposits that occur in the brains of these people and reduce them and slow the decline, but they don’t reverse the disease.”

But Potter said a team at the University of Colorado found the drug called GM CSF -- already approved for rheumatoid arthritis -- and it actually reversed Alzheimer’s.

“Not only do they get cognitively better, but the blood biomarkers of brain damage that are used to test drugs for Alzheimer’s disease all improved,” Potter said.

Their newest study focuses on finding drugs that block the effects of a protein known as APOE4 -- a protein that significantly increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Two commonly used psychiatric drugs -- imipramine and olanzapine -- had a significant impact by blocking the ability of APOE4 to promote amyloid formation.

“It isn’t just that they declined more slowly, they actually got better,” Potter said.

The next step in the research is to find out how age and gender contribute to Alzheimer’s disease in hopes of developing drugs that can reverse the underlying problems.