NOVATO, Calif. --Researchers at the Buck Institute in Novato believe they've been able to roll back the effects of a devastating disease for the first time, using a method that could offer new hope to the millions Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease.
"What we found is that when you make and store memories over your life, there is a balance. In Alzheimer's there's an imbalance. So you're tilted towards the side of pulling apart synapses, towards forgetting, and you're not good at making and story memories," explains Dale Bredesen, M.D.
Bredesen studies the pathways in our brains that contribute to the process of both making and forgetting memories. It's a complex system of proteins and amino acids that he believes can go out of balance. In a landmark study in 2006, Buck researchers essentially re-balanced those molecules in the brains of mice that were genetically engineered to have Alzheimer's. In follow up tests in a water-maze, the mice showed no signs of memory loss.
"We thought, how can you achieve the same result? Clearly you can't go out and make trans-genic humans, so how do you achieve the same result?" Bredesen said.
Bredesen's team began by carefully documenting diet and life-style factors known to affect the brain's signaling network and ultimately identified 36 key areas. Working from that list, they created specific regimens for each patient in the study.
Examples include: eliminating simple carbohydrates, gluten and processed foods, eating more vegetables, taking supplements like melatonin and Vitamin D2, sleeping a minimum of 7-8 hours, and fasting between dinner and breakfast.
"And when we do that, we see big effects then on memory," observed Bredesen.
The clinical trial included just 10 patients, and unlike blinded drug trials, the results are observational. But of the 10, nine patients reported a significant improvement in their memory, and an actual reversal of symptoms linked to Alzheimer's. More than half were able to return to work.
"For the first time we can make these people better," Bredesen says.
He admits the regimen can be complex, and potentially difficult for many patients to follow without the help of a caregiver. Still, Bredesen believes the results could mark a turning point in the way researchers approach Alzheimer's.
"When I found out that a number of these people, six out of the 10, were back at work full-time, I said that's hard to fake. Of course we need more studies, scans, blood tests, and that's in the works," he says.
The team is now working to secure funding for a large scale trial.