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Alzheimer's Research Making Leaps and Bounds

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Currently, the only drugs approved for Alzheimer's disease work to help nerves transmit impulses in the brain. The class of drugs includes Cognex (tacrine), Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine), and one under consideration by the FDA called galantamine, the latest in the evolution of current therapy.

Thies says all these drugs only help treat symptoms of the disease, such as problems with thinking and remembering, in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. They only last for a short while, and they are not a cure, according to Thies.

However, Thies says there are current trials testing substances like vitamin E (an antioxidant, which prevents damage from free radicals), estrogen, and even the herb ginkgo biloba, to fight the progression of the disease. Morrison-Bogorad also notes the need for research into using anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to fight Alzheimer's disease.

"So, one of the things we have to do," she says, "is good [human experiments], so we can know if over-the-counter medications work." That's important because if "things that people already take [can be used for Alzheimer's disease], they don't have to be developed."

All in all, it's an "incredibly exciting time ... only limited by the imagination of scientists," Morrison-Bogorad says

For more information from WebMD, visit our Diseases and Conditions Alzheimer's page.

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