A curcumin-based drug that can stop, even reverse, Alzheimer's symptoms is ready for human clinical trials, according to Salk Institute researchers. This development may be the most promising to date in a search that has challenged the best brains in medical research. But Big Pharma has declined to fund the human trial.
The initial report on the Salk study came out over a year ago. Earlier this week, an update appeared in the online journal Alzheimer's Research and Therapy.
The scientists' follow-up study used an experimental design that separates this research from most of the work being done on Alzheimer's.
Tomorrow I'll describe the study's methodology, and the Salk scientists' suggestion that Big Pharma has been on the wrong path for drug discovery. But today, let's look at the follow-up study's findings about the curcumin-based drug and Alzheimer's.
Progression of AD Halted in Very Old Mice
No available drug can stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. But the Salk researchers now believe their curcumin-based compound can do just that.
It's a bold claim, but rigorous experiments on laboratory mice have held up, revealing the great promise of J147, the new curcumin-based product. The initial 2011 report on J147 showed that it could improve memory in AD-affected mice. Researchers demonstrated that J147 prevented disconnections in the brain's synapses, which in turn halted the ravages of the disease.
In the follow-up study reported this week, scientists subjected J147 to a tougher test. Before administering J147, the researchers say, "we aged Alzheimer's mice to 20 months old, which is very old for an Alzheimer's mouse." That design separates this research from most Alzheimer's work.
Here are the highlights of the report on the updated testing of J147:
- Administered in the food of the aged and genetically engineered mice, J147 was able to reverse, even at that late stage in the disease, memory deficits after only three months of treatment.
- In a different experiment, the scientists tested J147 against Aricept (generic donepezil), the most widely prescribed Alzheimer's drug, and found that it performed as well or better in several memory tests.
- Researchers found that while both drugs -- Aricept and J147 -- improved short-term memory, only J147 improved spatial memory. They also found that combining the drugs worked better than either alone.
- J147 has low toxicity and actually reverses damage in neurons associated with Alzheimer's.
- J147's ability to repair neuronal damage could make it useful in treating other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's. (Underscoring added by this Parkinson's-afflicted blogger.)
As we've seen before with the effective but inexpensive compound curcumin, Salk lab chief David Schubert reports that Big Pharma reps he's contacted have declined to fund the trials. His lab is ready to submit an investigational new drug application with the FDA. But that process will cost $1.5 million just to start the trial, more if the drug shows potential, no small sum for a lab using unconventional methods in our post-sequestration funding environment.
If the compound does reverse Alzheimer's -- or even halts its progress -- the implications are enormous. AD is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. The number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's is expected to rise from about 5.3 million now to more than 16 million by 2050.
Direct costs of caring for AD patients will reach $203 billion this year, a total that includes Medicare and Medicaid expenses. By 2050, the cost is projected to rise to $1.2 trillion.
And we can't cough up $1.5 million for clinical trials on this MOST promising treatment for Alzheimer's? It boggles the mind.
I've shared information on the many studies that have shown curcumin's potential for treating Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, depression . . . the list goes on. Enter "curcumin" in the search box for these reports.