LOS ANGELES, June 16 (UPI) -- A comprehensive, personalized therapeutic program reversed the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in patients in a small study, suggesting the condition is more treatable than previously thought.
Researchers at the Buck Institute used a 36-point program changing everything from diet, exercise and sleep to pharmaceuticals and vitamins turned back some of the effects of Alzheimer's disease in 10 patients during a recent study.
Alzheimer's disease is difficult to diagnose while patients are still alive -- the only true confirmation is by examining a brain sample after death -- though doctors can diagnose it based on symptoms. For most, a diagnosis involves managing these symptoms as the disease progresses over time, affecting memory and other basic functions of the brain.
For some patients, however, genetic risk for Alzheimer's is higher because they carry at least one, if not two, copies of the APOE4 allele. While many doctors suggest not doing a genetic test for the disease, because nothing could be done to prevent it, the potential to reverse or prevent the disease may now exist.
"The magnitude of improvement in these ten patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective," Dr. Dale Bredesen, a professor at the Buck Institute and the University of California Los Angeles, said in a press release. "Even though we see the far-reaching implications of this success, we also realize that this is a very small study that needs to be replicated in larger numbers at various sites."
For the study, published in the journal Aging, researchers recruited 10 people with mild cognitive impairment, subjective cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease at the start of the study.
Based on each individual participant's condition, the researchers designed a personalized 36-point program involving changes to diet, brain stimulation, exercise, optimization of sleep, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins and other therapies to alter brain chemistry, using it to treat them for between five and 24 months.
In all ten cases, the researchers report, improvements were seen in memory and cognitive function, with some participants able to go back to work and complete tasks that had slowly become impossible for them as their cognitive conditions worsened.
While the study was small, the researchers say it opens up new avenues for how the disease is treated, including getting away from using just one or two drugs in an effort to delay cognitive declines.
The idea to combine multiple treatment methods is rooted in some of the recent successes treating cardiovascular disease, cancer and HIV, all of which have involved combination therapies.
"Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well -- the drug may have worked, a single 'hole' may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much," Bredesen said. "We think addressing multiple targets within the molecular network may be additive, or even synergistic, and that such a combinatorial approach may enhance drug candidate performance, as well."