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Enbrel May Help Treat Alzheimer's

Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug May Prompt Rapid Improvement in Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms
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WebMD Health News

July 21, 2008 -- A drug commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other immune-based conditions may also be effective at targeting language-related Alzheimer's disease problems.

Disruption of language abilities, such as difficulty finding words to express thoughts, is a common symptom of Alzheimer's disease.

A new study shows people with Alzheimer's disease experienced rapid improvement in language abilities after treatment with Enbrel (etanercept). In fact, researchers videotaped noticeable language skill improvements in Alzheimer's patients within minutes after receiving the drug.

The small, phase two clinical trial involved only 12 people with mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's disease, but researchers say the results merit further study in phase three clinical trials.

New Target for Alzheimer's Disease Treatment

Etanercept works by targeting a substance produced by the immune system known as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). This substance is implicated in attacking healthy tissue and causing inflammation in people with immune system disorders, such as arthritis and certain skin conditions.

In the study, published in BMC Neurology, researchers treated 12 people with mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's disease weekly with Enbrel for six months. The drug is usually delivered by injection to the thigh, abdomen, or upper arm, but in this study researchers injected the drug into the muscles surrounding the spinal cord to deliver the drug directly to the nervous system and reduce TNF-alpha levels in the brain.

The results showed improvements in conversational, naming, and comprehension abilities -- and improvements in following spoken commands -- began within minutes after injection.

Researchers say the findings may also offer new insight behind the development of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and offer new avenues for treatment using immune-based therapies.

For example, researcher Edward Tobinick of the Institute for Neurological Research in Los Angeles and colleagues say elevated levels of TNF-alpha in the brain may interfere with the regulation of neural impulses controlling language in the brain. With further study, these effects may be reversible with drugs like etanercept that target TNF-alpha.

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