IVIg, which contains antibodies derived from purified human plasma, is used to treat certain immune deficiencies, autoimmune diseases and cancers.
Though researchers aren't sure of the precise mechanism, it's possible that older people lack sufficient antibodies to beta-amyloid proteins, causing the plaque to accumulate. Fillet said that IVIg might help by giving the immune system a boost and slowing down, or preventing, the buildup of the toxic plaque.
Several drug companies are also at work developing monoclonal antibodies, or artificially produced drugs, to prevent the beta-amyloid buildup.
Despite the study's promising results, the researchers said, they're not suggesting that IVIg be given as a treatment for Alzheimer's yet. A phase 3 clinical trial testing IVIg as an Alzheimer's treatment is under way, also sponsored by Baxter.
Participants in the trial are getting infusions of IVIg or a placebo every two weeks for 70 weeks, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health's online registry of clinical trials, www.clinicaltrials.gov.
The trial, which will include an estimated 360 participants, is expected to be completed in July 2011.
If the clinical trial shows that IVIg is beneficial, it could be a potent new weapon against Alzheimer's, treating the underlying cause of the disease rather than just the symptoms, Fillit said.
"I don't think we would recommend doctors do it right now, but if the clinical study works, then there's potential that doctors could start using it as soon as the results are known," he said.
Dr. Victor Henderson, a professor of epidemiology and neurology at Stanford University in California, said he agrees with the need for a clinical trial to effectively
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