Clinical Trials of Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Leon Thal, chair and professor in the Department of Neurosciences of the University of California at San Diego, moved the program into more clinical areas by summarizing current trials with AD patients. “Improvements in the understanding of AD have made it possible for us to design new drugs to intervene at several stages of the disease process,” Dr. Thal reported to the journalists. Insights into the neurochemistry and neurobiology of the disease, along with population studies pinpointing risk factors, have resulted in a marked expansion of the types and numbers of drugs to be tested. Today, there are 50 to 60 drugs either approaching or already in human trials. These agents are based on one of two basic approaches to the treatment of AD: improving cognitive symptoms and managing behavioral problems associated with the disease.

Altering the rate of cognitive decline in people with AD would profoundly affect the course of the disease and could dramatically reduce its costs, Dr. Thal said, and “neuroprotective” agents are being examined at a stepped-up pace. Some of these currently under investigation include: anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogen and estrogenic compounds, antioxidants, ginkgo biloba, and nerve growth factor (NGF). Dr. Thal briefly highlighted the exciting approaches that investigative groups using these chemicals are pursuing in an effort to slow the progression of AD. He also emphasized the importance of research treating symptoms, even though such treatment does not affect the underlying course of the disease. Advances in pharmacological research are also, he noted, making it possible to slow the rate at which patients’ functioning declines, thus extending and improving quality of life for both patients and their families. The journalists were very interested in any news about new treatments, and pushed Dr. Thal to share detailed information on upcoming trials. He and the NIA promised to “keep in touch.”

Source: Connections Magazine [Volume 8(1), Spring 1999]

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