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Getting a handle on Alzheimer's

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New drug may restore memory

November 17, 1996
Web posted at: 10:25 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jeff Levine

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At the moment, there is nothing that can restore the memory of a patient with Alzheimer's disease. But that could change if an experimental drug called Ampakine CX-516 pans out.

It boosted memory recall in a few healthy test subjects by about 20 percent.

"We've completed three studies in which positive effects have been obtained on memory in human beings. In some cases, the effects have been substantial, particularly with the elderly," said Gary Lynch of the University of California at Irvine.

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The new drug will be tested soon on Alzheimer's patients in a small study conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

It appears CX-516 is the first drug built from the ground up to attack the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The idea is to stimulate so-called AMPA receptors in the brain that improve the flow of information from one cell to another.

Among those tested, the drug helped them to remember nonsense syllables.

"People who have had the Ampakine do better at that task," said Lynch.

Lynch, who has a financial interest in the drug, says so far there have been few side effects.

The findings were released at an international meeting of neuroscientists in Washington. Some 22,000 researchers attend to learn more about the secrets of the brain.

"As we learn more about the brain, we're going to be able to develop treatments and ways to address a large number of societal problems," said Zaven Khachaturian of the Alzheimer's Association.

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Targeting the 'bad guy' protein

In a related development, scientists seem to have an answer as to why plaque deposits build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Two proteins play a role. They know that the results can be devastating when the fairly benign 1-40 protein is combined with the dangerous 1-42 protein.

It now appears possible to make a drug that would inhibit the bad guy protein 1-42.

"We know the target, the biology is quite clear now. There are prototype drugs that lower 1-40, but not 1-42. We have to search for drugs that do the opposite."

Such drugs might stave off Alzheimer's disease, much as cholesterol lowering medicines help prevent heart attacks.

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