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Trial Shows Personalized Alzheimer’s Treatment Effects

Brain wiring illustration

Brain wiring illustration (Courtesy, Human Connectome Project and NIH)

17 June 2016. A small-scale clinical trial offers early evidence of a personalized treatment combining changes in diet, exercise, brain stimulation, and medications can reverse cognitive decline leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Results of the trial were published this week in the journal Aging.

The trial tested a treatment approach for Alzheimer’s disease known as metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration or MEND. The MEND protocol addresses 36 factors affecting brain chemistry related to metabolic deficiencies affecting maintenance of synapses, the junctions in nerve cells that send and receive signals. The program is tailored for each individual following a detailed diagnosis, and can include changes in diet and exercise routines, improved sleep, meditation, or brain stimulation.

The study was a pilot test of the MEND protocol conducted at the Buck Institute in Novato, California led by the institute’s founder and CEO Dale Bredesen, and Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at University of California in Los Angeles. Bredesen is also on the UCLA faculty.

Some 10 individuals took part in the trial, who ranged from people with subjective cognitive impairment — early-stage memory problems and loss of mental sharpness — or mild cognitive impairment, with a few participants already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Of the 10 participants, 9 had a higher genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, carrying 1 copy of the APOE4 gene variation associated with a greater likelihood of developing memory loss or Alzheimer’s. They ranged in age from 54 to 74, and were divided evenly between men and women.

Participants in the trial were given quantitative MRI, positron emission tomography or PET scans, and a battery of neurological and psychological tests before and after their treatments, which lasted from 5 to 24 months.  The research team also followed-up with participants 6 to 9 months after the trial to gauge any continuing effects of the treatments.

The immediate results of the treatments show participants reported improvements in at least some cognitive measures, as well as quantitative MRI indicators. Follow-up inquiries, reported as case studies, were made to the participants, as well as spouses, family members, and work colleagues. The team reports participants experienced personal, business, and professional improvements, such as returning to jobs they had to quit before the treatments, or improving performance on the job where they retained their jobs.

Bredesen says larger trials are planned for the MEND protocol, but the early results are encouraging, particularly for catching cognitive decline early, and the earlier the better. “The old advice was to avoid testing for APOE because there was nothing that could be done about it,” notes Bredesen in a Buck Institute statement. “Now we’re recommending that people find out their genetic status as early as possible so they can go on prevention.”

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