Alzheimer’s disease is a rare genetic disorder that damages the brain, resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia which affects up to 70% of all people with dementia. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is increasing age, with 1 in 4 people over the age of 85 having dementia. At present there is no cure apart from drug interventions which are a temporary fix however there currently is a new Alzheimer’s therapy involving a nerve growth factor (NGF) implant inserted in the brain, being tested at Karolinska Institute’s Centre for Alzheimer’s Research in Sweden.
“Those with Alzheimer’s disease experience an early breakdown of cholinergic nerve cells, which require a specific nerve growth factor (a group of proteins necessary for cell growth and survival) to function. As NGF levels drop, the cholinergic nerve cells begin to degrade and the patient’s condition worsens.”
Researchers in this current study are attempting to stop the breakdown of these nerve cells, by introducing NGF into the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. In order to do so they have placed NGF-producing cell capsules in the basal forebrain. These easily removable capsules then released NGF to the surrounding cells to prevent further degradation.
“The study is based on data from six Alzheimer’s patients. To determine whether the NGF release exerted any effect on the cholinergic nerve cells, the researchers looked for the presence of specific markers of functioning cholinergic cells. This cell system communicates using acetylcholine, which in turn produces an enzyme called ChAT (pronounced Cat) that is found both inside and outside the cells. For the first time, the researchers developed a method that allowed them to measure ChAT in the cerebral spinal fluid.”
The results of the study have shown that when the patients received NGF, there was a significant increase in ChAT in the CSF. The studies PET scans also showed an increase in cholinergic cell activity and metabolism in the brain. Researchers were also able to identify a slowing of memory impairment over time compared to an untreated control group of patients. This does suggests that cholinergic functionality did improve in the Alzheimer’s patients that had received the treatment; the research team did note that far-reaching conclusions are not able to be drawn from the results yet.
“The results are promising, but must be treated with circumspection as only a few patients participated in the study,” said principal investigator Maria Eriksdotter, M.D., Ph.D. “So our findings will have to be substantiated in a larger controlled study using more patients.”