`Spectacular' Alzheimer's Breakthrough Possible
By GARY HABER firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Oct 2, 2004
TAMPA - A team of Finnish researchers working with Tampa's Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute has developed a drug that could be a major advancement for people with spinal cord injuries and degenerative diseases including Alzheimer's.
The researchers, led by Paivi Liesi, at the University of Helsinki, isolated a combination of amino acids known as tripeptide lysine-aspartic acid isoleucine. When tested in rats, the combination prevented neurotoxins from destroying neurons in the rats' brains.
The therapy could slow or even reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease, the researchers said. It could be a boon for the millions of people dealing with the condition because there are few medications available for those in the later stages of the disease.
The combination of amino acids isolated by Liesi and her team may hold promise for people with spinal cord injuries. Tests showed it regenerated nerve impulses in laboratory rats with damaged spinal cords. Those rats, whose spinal cords had been severed, regained limited body movement after the drug was administered.
``This is one of the most spectacular results I've seen in the last five years,'' said Huntington Potter, the Byrd center's chief executive officer. ``The promise is very, very great.''
The results of the yearlong test were published Friday in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, a top publication in its field, where studies are evaluated by other scientists before being accepted for publication in a process known as peer review.
``To be published in there, it would have to be a very good study,'' said Paul Sanberg, distinguished professor of neuroscience at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and director of USF's Center for Aging and Brain Repair.
If the drug is successful in humans, it could be a major advancement for the millions of Americans with spinal cord injuries and the 4.5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a number expected to grow to more than 14 million by 2050.
Ed Bergman, assistant director for family advocacy for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago, said his group will be watching the results of future tests.
``We're happy for any development that has promise,'' Bergman said. ``We're constantly hopeful for a cure. That's our dream every day, that this is the day a cure will be found.''
The research also could lead to important treatment for people suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, Sanberg said.
It will take years of research and backing from a pharmaceutical manufacturer or biotechnology company to finance millions of dollars of clinical trials on humans to determine that, he said.
``It's a lot easier to get a rat moving from a spinal cord injury than it is a human,'' Sanberg said.
Potter said that after continued testing in rats, initial human testing could begin within six months to a year. If human testing proves the drug is effective, it could take another three to seven years to win Food and Drug Administration approval to make the drug widely available.
The Byrd center, which is building a $20 million research facility at the University of South Florida, contributed about $250,000 to help fund Liesi's work, Potter said.
The initial research was conducted in Helsinki. Some of the next phase of testing will take place in Tampa, Potter said.