Ten patients suffering from various degrees of age-related cognitive decline have seemingly had their lives transformed after receiving a new form of highly personalized treatment. Describing their research in the journal Aging, the study authors claim that, thanks to their new approach, “patients who had had to discontinue work [due to their condition] were able to return to work, and those struggling at work were able to improve their performance.”
Dubbed metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND), the treatment involves a 36-point program that includes medication, dietary changes, vitamin supplements, brain stimulation and exercise, among several other things. In a statement, lead researcher Dale Bredesen described the improvements experienced by the 10 participants as “unprecedented,” adding that “follow up testing showed some of the patients going from abnormal to normal.”
Though the number of participants in this study is small, results are significant given that all but one of these patients carried at least one copy of a certain form of a gene – or allele – called APOE4, which is involved in around 65 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases. Five of the patients carried two copies of this allele, placing them at an extremely high genetic risk of developing the condition.
At present, most doctors do not evaluate patients for APOE4, since many consider it unhelpful for patients to be made aware of their genetic likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer’s because there is nothing that can be done to treat it. However, Bredesen says that “we’re entering a new era” in which evaluating for APOE4 early may prove crucial in enabling patients to avoid suffering from Alzheimer’s.
The 10 patients that took part in the study had previously been diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s or one of its precursors, such as mild cognitive impairment or subjective cognitive impairment. However, after receiving the treatment, many of them no longer met the criteria for their previous diagnoses.
For instance, one man in his mid-60s was found to have suffered from severe shrinking of a part of the brain called the hippocampus, to the point where his hippocampal volume was measured at the 17th percentile for his age group. After 10 months of treatment, however, MRI scans showed that his hippocampal volume had increased to the 75th percentile, coinciding with a major improvement in his cognitive capacities.
Image: MRI scans of the brains of Alzheimer's patients often reveal reduced volume in certain brain regions. Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock
Another man in his late 60s, whose long-term memory was at the third percentile for his age, was on the verge of closing down his business at the start of the study as he could no longer function sufficiently. However, after six months of treatment, he was able to memorize his work schedule and recognize the faces of co-workers, while at the 22-month mark his long-term recall had improved to the 84th percentile. As a result, he did not shut down his business.
Explaining why MEND seems to have succeeded where countless other Alzheimer’s treatments have failed, Bredesen said: “Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well – the drug may have worked, a single 'hole' may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much.”
Previous attempts to reverse the symotoms of Alzheimer's have been largely unsuccessful. Lighthunter/Shutterstock