A new Alzheimer’s therapy, which involves a nerve growth factor (NGF) implant inserted directly into the brain, is being tested by researchers at Karolinska Institutet’s Centre for Alzheimer’s Research in Sweden, and the results are are said to be very promising.
Those with Alzheimer’s disease experience an early breakdown of cholinergic nerve cells, which require a specific nerve growth factor (a group of proteins necessary for cell growth and survival) to function. As NGF levels drop, the cholinergic nerve cells begin to degrade and the patient’s condition worsens.
In an attempt to thwart the breakdown of these nerve cells, the researchers introduced NGF directly into the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. To do this, they placed NGF-producing cell capsules in the basal forebrain. These capsules, which can easily be removed, then released NGF to the surrounding cells in order to prevent their degradation.
The study is based on data from six Alzheimer’s patients. To determine whether the NGF release exerted any effect on the cholinergic nerve cells, the researchers looked for the presence of specific markers of functioning cholinergic cells.
This cell system communicates using acetylcholine, which in turn produces an enzyme called ChAT (pronounced Cat) that is found both inside and outside the cells. For the first time, the researchers developed a method that allowed them to measure ChAT in the cerebral spinal fluid.
“Our results show that when the patients received NGF, there was a significant increase in ChAT in the CSF,” said Dr. Taher Darreh-Shori, one of the researchers involved in the study.
“The patients that exhibited this increase were also those that responded best to the treatment. Our PET scans also showed an increase in cholinergic cell activity and metabolism in the brain.”
Furthermore, the researchers were able to detect a slowing of memory impairment over time compared with untreated patients. While all of this suggests that cholinergic functionality improved in the Alzheimer’s patients who had received NGF therapy, the team noted that far-reaching conclusions cannot be drawn from the results just yet.
“The results are promising, but must be treated with circumspection as only a few patients participated in the study,” said principal investigator Maria Eriksdotter, M.D., Ph.D. “So our findings will have to be substantiated in a larger controlled study using more patients.”
Their findings are published in the scientific journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Source: Karolinska Institutet