April 8, 2003
by Orrin Schonfeld
A German drug tested in the U.S. seems to slow down the disease in patients.
Connie Costa used to work in accounting, but now she has trouble with even simple things. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago.
"In the course of Alzheimer’s disease, patients lose the ability to carry out all basic capacities. They lose all their thinking abilities," says Barry Reisberg, New York University School of Medicine.
"I used to cry you know. I couldn't do anything myself. Donald did everything for me," said Connie. After fifty years of marriage her husband Donald is happy to help.
But a German drug called Memantine could help slow the disease. In a study funded by Merz Pharmaceuticals and the national institute on aging, Reisberg and his colleagues, studied 252 patients in thirty-two different centers. Patients were given either Memantine or a placebo for six months.
"Memantine works on the more severe stages of the disease, the stages of the disease associated with the greatest patient distress and the greatest caregiver burden," said Dr. Reisberg.
Reporting their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers explained that an Alzheimer’s patient's brain produces more of a chemical called glutamate.
Memantine blocks other cells from reacting to the excess glutamate and protects them from damage. "It seemed to slow deterioration by fifty percent, by half, or even more than fifty percent," said Dr. Reisberg.
Although it's not a cure, Reisberg says Memantine could ease the burden of people like the Costas and buy them more time.The FDA is currently reviewing the drug for use in the U.S.
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