Alzheimer's disease continues to be one of the most devastating brain disorders around, claiming veteran American comedian Gene Wilder as its latest victim. However, an experimental drug being developed by a Massachusetts-based company shows significant promise in stopping the disease from ever developing.

Researchers from pharma company Biogen announced on Wednesday, Aug. 31, that their new drug aducanumab has shown the ability to shatter toxic plaques and even remove them from the brains of early-stage Alzheimer's patients.

When given to patients once a month for an entire year, the drug can eliminate the plaque buildup in the brain, allowing cellular processes and nerve cell communication to resume.

Toxic Plaque Buildup

Plaques often build up in the brain of most aging individuals. However, those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease tend to have more of these deposits.

While there is still no known cure for the brain disorder, there are some existing treatments that can help alleviate many of its symptoms. Researchers are still trying to develop a drug that can effectively retard the progression of the disease or even reverse it.

During their testing of aducanumab for its safety for human use, scientists from Biogen discovered that the experimental treatment helped slow down the impact of Alzheimer's on patients more effectively compared to the placebo they used.

The participants were divided into two groups, where the first one was to be given monthly infusions of the new drug and the other one was to be given only a placebo for 54 weeks. Some of the patients were given aducanumab in four separate doses.

After subjecting the participants to PET brain scans, the researchers discovered that those who received aducanumab had lesser brain plaque buildup compared with those who only received the placebo.

All of the patients that received aducanumab showed a considerable reduction in their brain plaques over time, but those that received high doses of the drug had the greatest reduction in their plaques overall.

"We think we have something important here," Biogen chief medical officer Dr. Alfred Sandrock said.

"We hope we're right because if it's true it would benefit millions of patients. But we don't know we're right yet."

Aducanumab's Effects

Aducanumab's promise as an effective Alzheimer's drug depends on two factors. The first one is its ability to target toxic forms of amyloid proteins while ignoring those that are considered benign.

The second one is its ability to enhance the capabilities of immune cells in the brain of patients to remove toxins such as amyloid.

However, there appears to be a tradeoff to this effect. Removing plaques can sometimes allow fluid to build up in their place, and in rare instances, can even cause bleeding in the brain. This is condition is called amyloid-related imaging abnormalities (ARIA).

According to the researchers, they anticipated that ARIA could occur during their testing. The onset of the condition caused 20 of the participants to drop out of the study after developing side effects.

Biogen has launched two larger follow up studies involving 2,700 Alzheimer's patients to verify the results of the initial trial.

If the experimental drug proves to be successful during these tests, it could help determine whether amyloid protein fragments are indeed the cause of the dreaded brain disorder.

The findings of the Biogen-sponsored study are featured in the journal Nature.

Photo: A Health Blog | Flickr 

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