Have you ever watched one of those home renovations shows on TV, where a whole house is transformed in a couple of days? Looks easy on TV, doesn’t it? But when you rush off to a builder, paint swatches and back-of-the-envelope sketches in hand, you discover that the easy fix is not that simple, or that quick, and usually very expensive. The same is true for medical research and ALZHEIMER’S.
‘Eureka’ moments in science are the exception, not the rule. Alzheimer’s disease, in particular, has been far from an easy fix. Medical breakthroughs often occur as a result of an interesting observation, the significance of which isn’t obvious at the time. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once wrote that the phrase heralding the most exciting discoveries is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s odd…’.
Around fifteen years ago, researchers at the University of Edinburgh investigating drugs that could improve memory discovered that reducing the levels of the hormone cortisol in elderly men improved their memory and word recall. Lapses in memory and inability to recall words is one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Now there’s an interesting observation.
Cortisol governs the body’s stress response; increasing heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose for energy – all of which the body needs in times of stress.
Cortisol levels go up and down in a natural cycle throughout the day. Persistently high levels of cortisol, however, are toxic to the brain and known to be associated with learning and memory problems, also symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Another interesting observation.
A number of these interesting observations have all come together over the last few years in support of the ‘cortisol hypothesis’ in Alzheimer’s disease – that elevated cortisol is responsible for the decline in brain function associated with Alzheimer’s.
Some of the best evidence comes from an Australian study showing that healthy older Australians with normal brain function but high levels of cortisol were much more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with normal levels of cortisol. The logical conclusion then, is that drugs that reduce cortisol in the brain may prevent the development of Alzheimer’s.
PROGRESSION IN XANAMEM DRUG TRIALS…
The drug XanamemTM was developed on the basis of the initial observations by the research group in Edinburgh.
XanamemTM works by preventing activation of cortisol in the brain. It has taken over 10 years, and millions of dollars, to get this one drug ready to be tested in Alzheimer’s patients.
You may not have heard about XanamemTM yet, but I think that’s likely to change. XanamemTM is currently being trialled in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease in Australia, the US and the UK. The XanADu trial is being run by Actinogen Medical, an Australian biotechnology company.
With over half of the patients on the trial treated so far, the results are encouraging, at least with respect to XanamemTM not causing any serious side-effects. This is often the point at which trials for other Alzheimer’s drugs have failed. Is this our Eureka moment? Not quite, but it’s closer than we’ve been in a very long time.
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