Life comes into this world with a burst from birth and leaves with the solemn exit in death. Nothing is forever. We are merely moments etched into a waking dream and memory the tool that sculpts the world around us.
Yet there is a disease that greedily steals time, forcing life’s continuing work of art to slowly vanish.
Alzheimer’s disease or AD leaves those who suffer from it with fragmented memory through cell death and tissue loss. It not only affects the sufferer but is a heart-breaking disease for family and friends as they watch a loved-one slowly suffer memory loss, personality changes and confusion.
An estimated five million people, two thirds of them women, suffer from this disease which has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Yet only half of them are being treated.
Dr. Steven Potkin of University of Irvine became acquainted with the problems associated with AD when he did his residency at Duke with a two year fellowship in gerontology. But more recently he became intimately associated with it when his father-in-law died five years ago from Alzheimer’s, experiencing the disease as a caregiver rather than a doctor. The perspective gave him new insight as he continues his interest in brain imaging and the discovery of new genes associated with it.
The importance of understanding the illness and its physiological path on how it develops prompted Dr. Potkin to find a better treatment.
Currently as it stands, there is no cure for AD, and it has been over 12 years since any new drug has been approved. The only two medications the FDA has approved treat just the symptoms, leaving the disease to progress further.
Dr. Potkin is now involved with the NOBLE Study, which involves clinical research to evaluate an investigational drug that is targeted specifically for people with mild-to-moderate AD. This new approach involves studying the new drug T-817MA that uses neuro-protectant qualities with hopes it suppresses the progression.
Brain tissue of an AD patient has lost nerve cells and synapses compared to a healthy brain. Right now what little information is known about the causes rest on two factors: plaques and tangles.
Plaques are abnormal clusters of protein fragments that build up between nerve cells, while tangles are dead or dying nerve cells made up of twisted strands of another protein. It’s also thought inflammation might be triggered by the body’s immune response towards the compromised nerve cells.
Dr. Potkin explains the compound T-817MA encourages neuron health, enabling the nerve processes to grow more, stabilizing the cell networks. It’s a neuron protection that might help delay the loss of function and protect from inflammation. Exactly how the compound protects is still unknown, the same for many other treatments out there.
With studies indicating this treatment can slow down the disease progression in animals, his research group is taking the next step by studying its effects on humans.
His research is part of the year-long national NOBLE study and has a handful of patients, but hopes to add another dozen or more in the next couple of months. With all the sites across the nation combined, there will be 450 patients involved.
Patients who decide to participate do not have to stop their current treatment for Alzheimer’s, as the drug is intended to compliment the effectiveness of current treatments.
Dr. Potkin addressed the benefits of participating in a research study by noting that “The actual truth is people get better treatment than their standard care, and receive access to a treatment not available otherwise.”
Tests, imaging and other medical procedures are very expensive and can inhibit someone from getting all the treatment options available for them. These procedures are done at no cost to the study participant. But most importantly, Potkin indicates participation builds a closer relationship.
“You tend to see the physician and research team frequently which is a great advantage.” This applies to both the patient and the caregiver as they find anchor in the disease that has turned their world upside down.
Dr. Potkin’s research group is planning a free showing next month of “Still Alice,” a film depicting early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, followed with a panel discussion regarding memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease and new research treatments to help the public better understand this disease.
To receive an invitation and reserve a seat, send an email to [email protected]
For more information on the NOBLE Study, visit http://www.noblestudy.org/ contact Farah Toullier, study coordinator at (714) 456-7994, or find them on facebook.com/UCINeuropsychiatricResearch.
Contact Gina at [email protected]