Agency Renews Alzheimer's Funding

    Last month, the National Institutes of Health announced that it would give $52 million to UCSD’s Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study to conduct clinical trials testing possible treatments for the disease.

    According to a university press release, the money will be used over the next six years and is the third renewal of a cooperative agreement between the National Institute on Aging, a subdivision of the NIH, and ADCS, which coordinates the efforts of about 70 different participating research sites.

    The past three grants for this nationwide coalition total $92 million.

    “This funding will be used to support clinical drug trials and the development of new methods of collecting data for future primary prevention trials,” Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Director Leon Thal stated in an e-mail.

    Douglas R. Galasko, a physician working with the ADRC who studies proteins in blood and cerebrospinal fluid as a way to help diagnose Alzheimer’s and follow treatment effects, stated that one study supported by the funding assesses new methods for elderly individuals that will allow physicians to collect data without the need for clinic visits.

    “The aim is to be able to conduct prevention studies more efficiently,” Galasko stated in an e-mail.

    In addition, the funding will be used to test several new treatment possibilities. Researchers will test whether docosahexaenoic acid, an ingredient in fish oil, slows the progression of the disease. Another study will try to remove or neutralize a protein thought to cause brain damage symptomatic of Alzheimer’s by intravenously administering immunoglobulins, a mixture of antibodies that bind to the harmful protein. A third study will assess whether low doses of lithium, a drug used for the treatment of depression, will positively alter pathways implicated in Alzheimer’s disease damage.

    “If positive, this will lead to further attempts to use lithium or novel drugs that act via these pathways, to try to slow the progression of dementia,” Galasko stated.

    According to Thal, the work has already begun.

    “We are already working on setting up our first two studies,” Thal stated. “Subject enrollment will begin in January 2007 for our first clinical drug trial.”

    Galasko stated that researchers are currently developing new instruments and testing methods in preparation for the full study.

    Currently, the ADCS has about 1,000 subjects in trials nationwide, including about 30 at UCSD. Thal anticipates enrolling about 40 to 50 more subjects for future trials. Most of the studies are conducted on an outpatient basis.

    UCSD receives the third-highest amount of funding from the NIH in the country, getting money for more than 600 active clinical research projects.

    “The methods and instruments developed by the ADCS have become the standard for use in clinical trials throughout the world,” Galasko stated.

    The goal of the ADCS is to find more effective treatments and eventually a cure for the disease.

    “Leon Thal is known worldwide for Alzheimer’s research and UCSD is very fortunate to have him on campus,” said Debra Kain, director of Health Sciences Research Communications.

    “Over 20 years ago [Alzheimer’s] posed a tremendous research challenge and opportunity,” Galasko stated. “Although we have made considerable progress in research, much remains to be done, particularly in bringing effective new treatments into the clinic that are able to slow the progression of disease.”

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