The first experimental drug to actually boost the brain damage lost in Alzheimer's disease has been developed by researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
The institute has research centers in California and in Florida, at the Medical City at Lake Nona. The lead researcher, Dr. Stuart Lipton, is based at the Sanford-Burnham La Jolla, California location.
The drug is called NitroMemantine and combines two drugs already approved by the FDA, Nitroglycerin and Memantine. Dr. Lipton and others see it as having so much potential.
"Many Alzheimer's drugs have been failing most because they are not clinically tolerated," said Dr. Lipton.
In animal trials, as well as brain cells derived from human stem cells, NitroMemantine stops the destructive changes in the brain which destroy the connections between neurons, or synapses. When these connections are damaged, that can lead to memory loss and cognitive decline.
"This new drug can protect the synapses all the way back to normal," Dr. Lipton said.
According to Dr. Lipton and his team's findings, NitroMemantine won't just stop the progression of Alzheimer's, but it could actually reverse damage already done to synapses. In short, that means early treatment as well as treatment a bit later.
It's encouraging news for Executive Director of Orlando's Alzheimer's and Dementia Resource Center Nancy Squillacioti, who mentors caregivers of local Alzheimer's patients.
"Finally, finally, we may have a chance!" she said. "It's the most promising to date, and it's so interesting he combined the two."
Dr. Lipton said, "I think the encouraging notes here are that we've taken two FDA approved drugs and put them together, so it's very likely to be safe. That's the major reasons drugs have failed: they are either not safe or not clinically tolerated. So while this is not a one hundred percent slam dunk, it makes it much more likely it might work!"
Dr. Lipton said it could be only a matter of years before the treatment is approved, once they get funding for trials. He said the only caveat is with the current state of the economy. Funding will likely not come from the National Institutes of Health, so he needs a pharmaceutical company with which to partner.
He said he has been shopping around for a prospective partner. He also felt compelled to give full disclosure to the fact he developed the original drug Memantine.