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Alzheimer's cognitive decline slowed

PET scans and cognitive tests have suggested that Alzheimer's disease patients with genetically modified tissue inserted directly into their brains show a reduction in the rate of cognitive decline and increased metabolic activity in the brain, according to a study published in the April 24, 2005 online issue of the journal Nature Medicine by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine.

PET scans demonstrated an increase in the brain's use of glucose, an indication of increased brain activity, while mental-status tests showed a slowing of the patients' rate of cognitive decline was reduced by 36 to 51 percent. In addition, researchers examined the brain tissue of a study participant who had died and found robust growth of extensions from the dying cholinergic cells near the site of growth factor gene delivery. Cholinergic neuron loss is a cardinal feature of Alzheimer's disease, a progressive brain disorder affecting memory, learning, attention and other cognitive processes.

"If validated in further clinical trials, this would represent a substantially more effective therapy than current treatments for Alzheimer's disease," said Mark Tuszynski, M.D., Ph.D., UCSD professor of neurosciences, neurologist with the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and the study's principal investigator. "This would also represent the first therapy for a human neurological disease that acts by preventing cell death."

In this first-ever gene therapy for Alzheimer's disease, UCSD physician-scientists took skin cells from eight patients diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease. The tissue was modified in the lab to express nerve growth factor (NGF), a naturally occurring protein that prevents cell death and stimulates cell function. In surgeries that took place in 2001 and 2002 at UCSD's John M. and Sally B. Thornton Hospital, the genetically modified tissue was implanted deep within the brains of the eight patients who had volunteer
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Source:University of California - San Diego


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