Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Font Size

Alzheimer's Gene Therapy Slows Mental Decline

Not a Likely Cure, Say Researchers Testing Gene Therapy
WebMD Health News

April 25, 2005 -- A new approach to Alzheimer's disease uses gene therapy to slow down the disease.

When tried for the first time in humans, the mental decline from Alzheimer's slowed. Metabolic brain activity also increased, according to the report in Nature Medicine's online edition.

The study was very small, with only eight patients. More studies are needed, say the researchers, who included neurosciences professor Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego.

The strategy didn't cure Alzheimer's disease and isn't likely to do so, they caution. But if confirmed, it might be "a useful therapy" that could surpass current Alzheimer's treatments.

First Human Tests

The technique is the first gene therapy for Alzheimer's disease, according to a news release. Previously, it was tested on nonhuman primates.

The participants -- five women and three men with Alzheimer's disease -- were followed for nearly two years, on average.

At the study's start, participants were about 67 years old and were in the early stages of the disease. It had been about 4.5 years since their Alzheimer's symptoms were first noticed and about two years since the probable diagnosis was made (Alzheimer's is definitively diagnosed when the brain is examined after death).

Each volunteer got mental tests and brain imaging scans before the procedure and at regular intervals during the two-year follow-up. That gave researchers a before-and-after look at participants' progress.

Using Skin Cells to Help the Brain

Researchers took skin cells called fibroblasts from each patient. In a lab, they genetically modified the cells to make and secrete nerve growth factor (NGF), a naturally occurring protein that prevents nerve cell death and stimulates cell function.

The modified cells were then inserted into each person's brain in a region affected by the disease.

At first, participants were sedated but awake while the cells were injected. Two patients moved during the procedure, causing bleeding in the brain. One died five weeks later. The other patient had temporary weakness on one side of the body and a worsening of dementia-related speech and language problems.

Later patients got general anesthesia during the procedure.

Today on WebMD

Remember your finger
When it’s more than just forgetfulness.
senior man with serious expression
Which kinds are treatable?
senior man
Common symptoms to look for.
mri scan of human brain
Can drinking red wine reverse the disease?
eating blueberries
Colored mri of brain
Close up of elderly couple holding hands
mature woman
Woman comforting ailing mother
Senior woman with serious expression