The battle to reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Mulit-color image of whole brain for brain imaging research, Photo credit: NIMH/Public domain

In conjunction with our segment on Alzheimer’s, SciTech Now turned to the scientific community to learn more about the latest advances in the fight against the neurodegenerative disease afflicting as many as 5.2 million Americans.  We spoke with Dr. Paige Cramer, who along with her team at Case Western Reserve University, made headlines in 2012 after discovering that a cancer drug could notably reverse Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in mice.

Cramer recalls being at first startled by the rate at and degree to which bexarotene – a FDA approved medication used to treat skin cancer – took effect.  In fact, her supervisor Dr. Gary Landreth initially believed her findings to be the result of some mistake.  But Cramer quickly came to grasp the significance of what she had uncovered and remembers “doing a happy dance in the dark room.”  After all, what she had witnessed was truly quite remarkable.  In Cramer’s words, “the drug crossed into the brain and altered protein expression.”

Photo credit: Maggie Bartlett, NHGRI/Public domain

For those of you without a PhD in neuroscience, the study revealed how a widely used medication could promote the clearance of amyloid beta, a harmful protein believed to be at the root of Alzheimer’s disease.  In a matter of hours, the mice treated with the drug exhibited a substantial reduction in protein plaques, as well as clear signs of improved cognition.

So, what has become of Cramer’s groundbreaking research since that initial breakthrough two years ago?

After founding a biotech company with Landreth and Case Western, Cramer, the two-time Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee, accepted a position at Merck, and though no longer personally involved with the study, she expressed cautious optimism regarding the two clinical trials of bexarotene currently underway at Cleveland Clinic and ReXceptor.

While the drug may have worked well in the lab, Cramer warns that “we’ve cured mice many times.”  Still, however the trials may unfold, “we’re one step closer to understanding,” says Cramer, and that is something to be excited about.