Can a blood infusion help stave off Alzheimer’s disease? Possibly, according to a four-year research study by the Sutter Institute of Medical Research that shows “promising results” in preventing brain atrophy and delaying Alzheimer’s in early-stage patients.
The study, based at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, involves a blood product called intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG, which is extracted from the plasma of blood donors. It’s a collection of purified antibodies, including those that work against amyloid, an abnormal brain protein found in Alzheimer’s patients.
Sutter’s clinical trial included 50 patients – ages 50 to 84 – all of whom had MRIs that indicated mild cognitive impairment due to early-stage Alzheimer’s. They were given five infusions, either IVIG or saline as a placebo, over 10 weeks.
A year later, brain imaging of the two groups showed less brain atrophy and cognitive decline in the IVIG group.
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“We saw a significant reduction in brain atrophy in the (IVIG) group compared to the placebo group,” said Dr. Shawn Kile, a neurologist with the Sutter Neuroscience Institute and co-founder of the Sutter Memory Clinic and principal investigator of the IVIG study. “This is something to build upon in future studies. I was always hopeful it would work, but it was exciting to see the results.”
After 12 months, the IVIG group showed an annualized brain atrophy rate of 5.8 percent, compared with 8.1 percent in the placebo group. Also, there was a marked difference in the transition from mild cognitive impairment to dementia: 33 percent for the IVIG group, compared with 58 percent for the placebo group.
After 24 months, the positive benefit of IVIG appeared to fade. There was still a difference in brain atrophy and conversion to dementia between the IVIG and placebo groups, but it was no longer statistically significant, the Sutter study found.
Previous clinical trials used IVIG to treat later-stage Alzheimer’s dementia but showed only limited benefit, leading to Sutter’s study of patients in the earlier, pre-dementia phase.
“The best strategy is to catch it early and diffuse these antibodies into patients before they have lost a lot of brain tissue due to atrophy,” said Kile. “You have to catch this disease early to have an active intervention.”
The neurologist, who said he’s been interested in IVIG therapy since joining Sutter in 2007, said he hopes Sutter’s study will lead to additional investigations by other researchers “so we can eventually conquer this devastating disease.”
He said the next Sutter study will look at whether an annual infusion after 12 months could yield the same benefit as seen in the initial study.
“This is a horrible disorder and we need a treatment,” said Kile, whose grandfather died of the disease. “We don’t have a disease-modifying treatment that changes the course of Alzheimer’s. … If we can do something to stop it, it will be remarkable.”
The study was published recently in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
UC study looks at prostate cancer cells
A team of University of California researchers has identified similarities in prostate cells that could help treat aggressive cases of the deadly disease.
Similar genetic characteristics were found between healthy stem cells that occur naturally in the prostate and those appearing in aggressive prostate cancers, according to results published recently by the National Academy of Sciences.
UCLA and UC Santa Cruz researchers collaborated on the project, which compared biopsy results from men with metastasized prostate cancers involved in a clinical trial. It was supported by a grant from StandUptoCancer.org, which funds cancer research projects by U.S. doctors and scientists.
“Pinpointing the cellular traits of cancer – what makes those cells grow and spread – is crucial because then we can possibly target those traits to reverse or stop cancer’s progression,” said Dr. Owen Witte, founding director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center and the study’s lead author, in a statement.
While treatments for early-stage prostate cancer are often successful, he said, “therapies that target the more-aggressive and late-stage forms of the disease are urgently needed.”
Cancer, including of the prostate, is the second-leading cause of death in U.S. men, behind heart disease.