Unlikely trio provides critical information in understanding disease
BBC health reporter, Caroline Parkinson, recently reported on a study published in a Journal of Alzheimer’s Research that included test mice and a protein present in cases of rheumatoid arthritis and concluded the protein may have links to prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The 2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures reports an estimated 5.3 million people in the United States have the disease that costs 172 billion dollars annually. The debilitating disease is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and a major illness of those requiring special care in assisted living and nursing home environments. There are however, approximately 10.9 million unpaid people serving as caregivers for those with the disease.
The immune system of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis goes haywire, becomes over active and produces protein that may attack plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
One such protein, GM-CSF was given to mice with memory loss and the mice fared better in the test results measuring memory and learning, and performed at a similar level to mice of the same age without the condition.
Even the healthy mice treated with GM-CSF performed slightly better than their untreated peers. Mice with Alzheimer's who were given the placebo continued to do poorly in the tests.
Researchers have suggested the protein may attract an influx of cells called microglia from the peripheral blood supply around the brain, which in turn attack the characteristic plaques that form in the brains of people with Alzheimer's.
Experts in the UK said the study was "an important first step" and further tests are needed to see if the drug works for people with Alzheimer's.
It has already been recognized that people with rheumatoid arthritis were less likely to develop Alzheimer's, but the protective link had been thought to be due to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) taken by people with the condition. However tests showed this was not the case.
In another study at the University of South Florida, researchers genetically altered mice to have memory problems similar to those seen in Alzheimer's disease, which is a form of dementia.
They then treated that group and other healthy mice with the protein. Another set of mice, both healthy ones and those with Alzheimer's symptoms, were given a dummy (placebo) treatment.
At the end of the 20-day study, the Alzheimer's mice treated with GM-CSF fared substantially better on tests.
The brains of GM-CSF-treated Alzheimer's mice showed more than a 50% decrease in beta amyloid, the substance which forms Alzheimer's plaques.
An artificial version of GM-CSF, a drug called Leukine, is already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and has been used to treat cancer patients who need to generate more immune cells.
Researchers have concluded that clinical tests on humans are needed to confirm their conclusions, but the drug’s track record for safety suggests those studies are on the horizon which could result in treatment for the huge number of people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the nation suffering from the disease.