Study Looking for the Few, the Forgetful

August 5, 2004

Heather Heilman
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Maybe you lose your keys on a daily basis and you find you can't remember when you last had them. Or you look up a phone number in the directory and forget it before you can finish dialing.

memory"You can't think backwards. It's like someone erased some of the data," said Bee Pollock.

That kind of memory loss happens to everyone, but if you notice you're doing worse than your friends in your own age group, Pollock would like to talk to you.

She's the clinical trials coordinator in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology, and she's looking for volunteers to participate in a study to test if a drug now prescribed for Alzheimer's disease might help adults with mild to moderate cognitive impairment.

Subjects must be between the ages of 45 and 90 and identify themselves as having memory loss greater than might be expected for their age. A friend or family member should be able to corroborate this observation and be available to talk to investigators during the course of the trial.

"We want to enroll as many people as we can," said Pollock. The study requires a commitment to nine visits over a one-year period. Participants will not be compensated. However, the drug involved has already been shown to be effective in combating mild cognitive impairment in a smaller study.

Tulane was one of the sites that participated in the original studies of the drug in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. It was shown to improve cognitive function at the beginning of treatment and delay the cognitive decline associated with the disease.

It isn't a cure, but it helps Alzheimer's patients function significantly better for a longer period of time than they would otherwise. And compared to its predecessors, it's a safe drug with usually mild side effects. The drug works by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical that carries messages between brain cells.

One of the things that happen in Alzheimer's is that the cells that make acetylcholine are gradually lost. Alzheimer's becomes increasingly common as people get older. It's likely that more than half of people in their 80s have Alzheimer's.

In addition, there are a number of other problems that can develop in the brain as it ages, causing memory loss and other cognitive impairment. Researchers speculate that having more acetylcholine in the brain's bank might help people with other forms of cognitive impairment. They're also interested in figuring out if there's a link between mild cognitive impairment and the later development of Alzheimer's.

"Mild cognitive impairment may affect daily activities, but it's important to know that it does not always progress to Alzheimer's disease," said Benjamin Seltzer, professor of psychiatry and neurology and principal investigator of the study. "We would like to find out why mild cognitive impairment progresses to Alzheimer's disease in some individuals but not all of them."

Seltzer is also the principal investigator at Tulane in a number of other trials involving the drug, including a study of people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's who are currently on the drug but are not currently taking lipid regulators. Researchers want to see if a cholesterol-lowering drug will enhance the benefits of the original drug.

The vascular problems caused by high cholesterol can inhibit blood flow to the brain, aggravating the symptoms of Alzheimer's. But qualified participants for this study have been hard to find because they must have LDL cholesterol levels between 100 and 190. Most potential volunteers screened so far have levels higher than that.

"We eat too well in New Orleans," said Pollock. For information about participating in these studies, contact Pollock at 587-7363.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000