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New Hope for Alzheimer's Disease?

While not quite ready for prime-time, researchers are encouraged by the recent results of a small (101patients) study done in Canada in which Alzheimer's patients treated for three month with two common antibiotics (doxycycline and rifampin) had significantly less mental decline than those given placebo.   While the precise cause of Alzheimer's disease is still unknown, this suggests that an infectious or inflammatory process may be at least partially responsible.  One  theory is that a common bacteria that causes pneumonia and similar illnesses might play a role in causing Alzheimer's.  Although patients in this study showed significant improvement after antibiotic therapy, this study was not able to document that levels of the bacteria were reduced as significantly as would be expected.  Researchers suggested that the antibiotic regimen worked by inhibiting the characteristic Alzheimer's plaque accumulation in the brain.  This is the suggested mechanism of action for the potential role of statins in the treatment of Alzheimer's which is also currently under study. 

While it's easy for relatives of the 4.5 million Americans afflicted by Alzheimer's disease to get excited by any news of encouraging new research, this news has to be put into perspective.  In any disease area, it is not advisable to jump to conclusions based upon the results of one small study.  And while there certainly is not enough data to recommend antibiotic treatment to Alzheimer's patients at large, this data will be useful in guiding and suggesting further clinical trials.  

How effective were the antibiotics?  Researchers compared the short term (6 months) positive antibiotics' effects as similar to the two medicines currently FDA-approved available to treat Alzheimer's:  Aricept and Exelon.  Because only about half of Alzheimer's sufferers respond to these medications, new options are needed.  

Created: 11/25/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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