Alzheimer's Study Tests Old Drug on New Target

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Alzheimer's Disease Drug

CLEVELAND -- University Hospitals of Cleveland researchers have begun testing an epilepsy drug already on the market to determine whether it may be even more promising against Alzheimer's disease than scientists predicted when they began a current nationwide study of the medication in 2003. The clinical trial is being conducted at the University Memory and Aging Center (UMAC), one of about 40 sites nationwide that currently recruit participants to test the medication's effectiveness in slowing progression of the disease.

Alzheimer's disease brings with it a relentless assault on the brain, gradually robbing patients of their memories, thoughts and the ability to take care of themselves. Inside the brain, the hallmarks of the disease are molecular changes known as 'plaques,' which are globs of protein that accumulate in the brain, and 'tangles' that bunch up inside nerve cells. Both increase as a patient's symptoms worsen.

"We began this study because of evidence that this drug may block key molecular events that are known to be involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease," says Alexander Auchus, M.D., who is leading the UMAC team performing the study. "Now there's evidence that the drug could be more effective than we thought. That makes our study, looking at whether valproate's effects in the laboratory also occur in Alzheimer's patients, even more exciting and important."

Recently researchers from Indiana University Medical School and Lilly Research Laboratories reported that the compound under study, valproate, inhibits plaque in laboratory studies. That finding follows earlier indications that valproate combats the telltale tangles. Some researchers believe that stopping formation of both plaques and tangles is key to any successful approach to halting the disease.

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The trial is being organized and run by the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study, which is based at the University of California at San Diego. Previous research has shown that valproate helps ease symptoms of agitation like physical aggression, yelling and anger in some patients. Scientists will study whether patients who take valproate develop less agitation over time, as well as whether valproate slows down the deterioration of memory and daily functioning that occurs as the disease progresses. Doctors will also use imaging technologies like MRI scans to watch what actually happens inside the brain over the course of two years as people take the medication.

Nearly half of the 300 participants needed for the study have been enrolled so far, and new participants are being recruited for the next 12 months.

People with mild to moderate Alzheimer's who are living at home and have not yet shown signs of agitation are eligible. Participants will take part in the study, known as the Valproate Neuroprotection Trial, for two years. The study is funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health; Abbott Laboratories is donating the medication.

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UMAC, part of University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University, is located at 12200 Fairhill Rd., Cleveland. Anyone interested in learning more about the study should call 216-844-6328 or (800) 252-5048. More information is available on the Web at http://adcs.ucsd.edu/t_ValproateNP.htm.

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