Health Check: New way to treat Alzheimer's disease

    There is a new -- and possibly revolutionary -- way to treat Alzheimer's disease. (WJAR)

    There is a new -- and possibly revolutionary -- way to treat Alzheimer's disease.

    An experimental study is being done in Rhode Island in a lab at the University of Rhode Island’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience.

    "It's all about trying to understand neurodegenerative diseases," said Dr. Paula Grammas, who is the executive director of the Ryan Institute.

    The focus is primarily on Alzheimer's.

    "Alzheimer's is a very complicated disorder," said Grammas.

    Proteins in the brain -- amyloid and tau -- are believed to be contributing factors. But now, in this lab, they've identified a whole new target.

    "We're looking at the blood vessels in the brain as playing an important role in the development of the disease," said Grammas. "We've known for a long time that cardiovascular risk factors -- things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, in midlife -- can increase your risk for developing Alzheimer's and dementia in late life."

    This is the first time anyone has specifically targeted the blood vessels as a toxic source.

    "What we're targeting is, we think that they become altered in a way, that they produce, they metabolize and secret factors that are directly toxic to nerve cells," noted Grammas.

    They've identified a drug, Dabigatran, that is already FDA approved as a cardiac treatment and will be used in human clinical trials.

    "We picked this drug because it has a relatively good safety profile. It's already been widely clinically used in patients that are close in age to the population that we're going to target."

    URI is the lead on this study, which will be enrolling patients this spring at Rhode Island Hospital, Butler Hospital and the RI Mood and Memory Research Institute.

    The research is funded by the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation, a private organization.

    To learn more, click here.

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