Last updated at 23:52pm on 10.01.08
Alzheimer's affects 700,000 Britons
A drug used for arthritis can reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's "in minutes".
It appears to tackle one of the main features of the disease - inflammation in the brain.
The drug, called Enbrel, is injected into the spine where it blocks a chemical responsible for damaging the brain and other organs.
A pilot study carried out by U.S. researchers found one patient had his symptoms reversed "in minutes".
Other patients have shown some improvements in symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion after weekly injections over six months.
The study of 15 patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation by online publishers Biomed Central.
The experiment showed that Enbrel can deactivate TNF (tumour necrosis factor) - a chemical in the fluid surrounding the brain that is found in Alzheimer's sufferers.
When used by arthritis sufferers, the drug is self-administered by injection and researchers had to develop a way of injecting it into the spine to affect the brain cells.
Sue Griffin, a researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said: 'It is unprecedented to see cognitive and behavioural improvement in a patient with established dementia within minutes of therapeutic intervention.
'This gives all of us in Alzheimer research a tremendous new clue
about new avenues of research.' Enbrel is not approved for treating Alzheimer's in the U.S. or the UK and is regarded as highly experimental, said Dr Griffin.
'Even though this report predominantly discusses a single patient it is of significant scientific interest because of the potential insight it may give into the processes involved in the brain dysfunction of Alzheimer's,' she added.
Lead author of the study Edward Tobinick, of the University of California and Director of the Institute for Neurological Research, said the drug had 'a very rapid effect that's never been reported in a human being before'.
He added: 'It makes practical changes that are significant and perceptible, making a difference to his daily living.
'Some patients have been able to start driving again. They don't come back to normal but the change is good enough for patients to want to continue treatment.'
He said top-up injections were necessary but some patients had them a month apart.
Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 700,000 Britons with about 500 cases diagnosed every day.
Neil Hunt, of the Alzheimer's Society charity, said: 'The pursuit of a miracle cure for Alzheimer's continues to drive research into a variety of potential treatment targets.
These include a possible link between inflammatory reactions in the brain and Alzheimer's.'
Children exposed to lead in old paint, Victorian pipes and toys could be at risk of Alzheimer's later in life, scientists said yesterday.
A study shows that even small amounts of the metal in the first few years can build up plaques around the brain.
Scientists at the University of Rhode Island told the New Scientist that they fed infant formula milk laced with low doses of lead to baby monkeys, then followed their progress for 23 years. A post mortem of the brains revealed plaques - harmful deposits of protein found in Alzheimer's patients.
Reader views (5)
Here's a sample of the latest views published.
Patrick ol' boy:
Yesterday I visited an Alzheimer's center for my parents who are 40 years my senior (I am 51). While there, I noticed one of the residents was a man I knew. We were on the same masters swim team (he is 20 years older), another woman was only 68.
Should you find yourself with the disease some day, you should pray that you don't remember poking fun of those who suffer from it.
Funny thing about Alzheimers - you never forget how you once were. In fact, that's all you can remember and thought knowing that it only gets worse is the horror that one lives with day and night.
- Reality Bytes, NJ - USA
I always thought that Alzheimers was envioromental. As we grow up we consume small amounts of lead, aluminum, and toxic materials in the products we use and our water and air. I hope that this discovery leads to more help for patients.
- Arthur Salcido, Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Doctors of Naturopathy have known for years that chelation therapies for metal poisoning have proven to draw out metals from the brain and stave off the onset of Alzheimers and other debilitating brain malfunctions. Cessation in the use of foods with aluminum phosphates, porous metal cookware, and metal food storage containers can reduce our risks. Get the lead out people!
- James Lutack, Pueblo West, CO USA