By Anne Halliwell
Those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and their families may have something to celebrate as new clinical trials led by UK researchers could lead to a drug that prevents and treats the illness.
Theatre freshman Jacob Gadberry, whose uncle has Alzheimer’s, said that a treatment is needed sooner rather than later. Gadberry has witnessed the disease’s effect on not only his uncle, but on his relatives and loved ones.
“It brings down the family because he was a big part of it,” Gadberry said. “It’s really emotionally damaging.”
The first round of testing the drug Gemfibrozil for Alzheimer’s, generally used to treat cholesterol, should be underway by the end of the semester, said Gregory Jicha, associate professor of neurology in the Alzheimer Center’s clinical core and co-investigator in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.
“We’re eager to start bringing people in as soon as possible,” Jicha said. “We hope to get them through the first screening … by this quarter.”
Gemfibrozil affects a particular bit of microRNA, a piece of a gene that is related to the body’s reaction to diseases, in the human body.
The microRNA that Jicha is looking at declines when Alzheimer’s begins, Jicha said.
Gemfibrozil elevates levels of the microRNA in the body, which Jicha hopes will help to slow or stop the deterioration caused by Alzheimer’s.
Jicha credited Pete Nelson, professor in neuropathology, with targeting the microRNA that is tied to Alzheimer’s.
MicroRNA is a relatively new perspective in medicine, Jicha said, so UK’s foray into treatment targeting it is a groundbreaking idea.
Although Jicha cited one other study related to microRNA in health research, he said that UK is “certainly the first to … really try to exploit this pathway.”
Since Gemfibrozil has already been created and FDA-approved, Jicha’s study need not worry about developing its own drug to counteract the deterioration of microRNA, Jicha said.
Instead of spending their time creating a possible treatment, UK can begin testing the viability of the existing drug immediately, Jicha said.
“If this trial works … (Gemfibrozil) would be a very immediately translatable medicine,” said Linda Van Eldik, Director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.
Many clinical trials of drugs do not show optimal results, but Eldik hopes that these trials will make an impact on Alzheimer’s research.
Eldik said that although it is hard to reverse damage in patients who have suffered from Alzheimer’s for some time, “if you can hit the target early and slow down the disease,” then it may be possible to help that way.
“Almost everyone is touched by Alzheimer’s,” Jicha said.
About 5.2 million Americans of all ages had Alzheimer’s in 2013, according to Alzheimer’s Association’s 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.
One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s.
The UK Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s clinical core and co-investigator in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is poised to begin clinical trials of a treatment that could treat or possibly prevent Alzheimer’s in its early stages.
The study received funding from the National Institute on Aging, according to UKNow, and has been cleared for a 3-year testing period.
If the early groups show drastic effects from the drug, however, the trials could quickly move on to the next stage of testing, Jicha said.
Jicha stressed the need for haste in finding ways to treat Alzheimer’s.
“We need to hit this disease from every angle we’ve got,” he said.
Jicha also raised the issue of finding enough people willing to take part in the trials to build an expansive knowledge base.
“We can’t do this independently,” Jicha said. “We need people in the community to stand up and engage.”
Getting the trials set up is only half of the battle. Now the researchers need to find the answers, Jicha said.
In the future, microRNA may be linked to treatments for other neurological diseases. Jicha believes that finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s could also improve healthcare solvency.
“Obamacare is not the number-one threat to healthcare,” he said. “Alzheimer’s is.”
Above all, Jicha said that community involvement is the key to a successful trial run of this new potential treatment for Alzheimer’s.
“The medicines we’re testing currently have real hope,” Jicha said. “We want to get out there and let people know what a great resource we have here.”