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Experimental Drug Provides New Approach To Fighting Alzheimer's


Efforts to treat Alzheimer's disease have so far been disappointing. Researchers are now trying a different approach. They're using an experimental drug designed to protect the brain from the damage caused by Alzheimer's. NPR's Jon Hamilton explains.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: The hallmarks of Alzheimer's are plaques and tangles in the brain made up of toxic proteins. And so far, most efforts to treat the disease have focused on eliminating these proteins. But Lon Schneider at the University of Southern California says that approach may be too narrow.

LON SCHNEIDER: Alzheimer's being a complex disease in which multiple processes are involved suggests that there need to be multiple interventions.

HAMILTON: Schneider sees potential in an experimental drug. It works not by eliminating toxic proteins, but by helping neurons survive despite exposure to these proteins.

SCHNEIDER: This drug serves as a neuroprotectant and prevents further neuronal loss.

HAMILTON: The drug, owned by Toyama Chemical Company in Japan is called T-817MA, and Schneider, who has consulted for Toyama, says it worked well in rodents with a form of Alzheimer's.

SCHNEIDER: Compared to the animals that did not receive medication, there was far less loss of neurons.

HAMILTON: Now, researchers are preparing to study the drug in 450 people in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Finding that many participants is a challenge, so researchers are using a video to help get the word out. It lets people know whether they might qualify to participate in the study, which is called NOBLE.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The NOBLE study will evaluate an investigational drug specifically for people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's designed to protect the brain against neuron loss in order to suppress the progression of disease.

HAMILTON: Schneider says the NOBLE study is likely to finish enrolling patients in the next few weeks and will take about a year to complete.

SCHNEIDER: Were looking at a year timeline outcome, rather than six months or 18 months because we feel that we can detect a meaningful change within that period of time.

HAMILTON: Researchers are hoping that Alzheimer's patients who get the drug will show less mental decline than those who receive a placebo. Jon Hamilton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.