Hurrah! Cure for Alzheimer’s Discovered!

Yes, I’m doing that “sensationalist headline” thing the popular news media is so famous for.

But … I hope this is true. It would be damned cool if it was. At the same time, I’ve learned — not as a scientist, because I’m not one, but as a reader of news and onetime newspaper editor — that what you read in headlines is often misleading. And you can’t even trust the stories that follow.

But here it is: Breaking News from the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine

CLEVELAND – Feb. 9, 2012 – Neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have made a dramatic breakthrough in their efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers’ findings, published in the journal Science, show that use of a drug in mice appears to quickly reverse the pathological, cognitive and memory deficits caused by the onset of Alzheimer’s. The results point to the significant potential that the medication, bexarotene, has to help the roughly 5.4 million Americans suffering from the progressive brain disease.


In particular, the researchers were struck by the speed with which bexarotene improved memory deficits and behavior even as it also acted to reverse the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. The present view of the scientific community is that small soluble forms of amyloid beta cause the memory impairments seen in animal models and humans with the disease. Within six hours of administering bexarotene, however, soluble amyloid levels fell by 25 percent; even more impressive, the effect lasted as long as three days. Finally, this shift was correlated with rapid improvement in a broad range of behaviors in three different mouse models of Alzheimer’s.

Here’s hoping this is all aboveboard, that it really works as advertised, and that the drug, and the effect of the drug, translates over to humans.

Even if this one doesn’t, the study appears to show that a quick reversal of Alzheimer’s symptoms is possible.

If and when they prove the thing, I’m hoping Sir Terry Pratchett (Mr. Discworld) is one of the early patients.


Thanks to commenter ohioobserver for the heads-up on this. And for remembering my ABCD initiative.

This research — still in the basic stages — is among the most hopeful advances in attacking Alzheimer’s disease. Looks like the frontiers of “ABCD” are being pushed back a little. maybe a lot. Not that we still don’t need that “moon-shot” initiative you spoke of.

However! I must point out that his further comment …

I read most of your columns, and you are among my favorite bloggers, but I most, most enjoy the “short stacks”. Lots of gems. (some turds too, but that’s another comment). Keep it up. You do some cool stuff.

… is a bit off-base. Okay, maybe my posts DO contain the occasional turd, but by golly they are GEMLIKE turds.

  • Randomfactor

    Turds polished to perfection.

    I, too, know that lab results don’t always turn out in the Real World. But damn, if there were any quintessential “worst illness to have list,” Alzheimer’s has got to be near the top.

  • Sean

    This was on NPR’s Science Friday on Feb 10, 2012. TIt works really well in mice. They pumped the little buggers full of the stuff and they saw drastic reductions in the plaque that builds up in the brain responsible for alzheimer’s. However the scientist they were interviewing from Case Western (Dr. Landreth) was very clear that it’s not yet a cure. They haven’t done human trials yet, but will start them in a month and hopefully it still works, with little or no side effects and they can figure out the proper dosage. The drug is already FDA approved for cancer, but it’s a rather weak cancer drug, but the doctor stressed: DON’T TRY IT AT HOME!!! They have no idea if it’ll work in people yet. But I really hope they have found the cure. That would be amazing. The end of alzheimer’s.

  • Sean
    • Hank Fox

      Even if it doesn’t work in humans — hey, a cure for Alzheimer’s in mice!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Aside from the fact that this is only an animal trial, the causal relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and amyloid plaques is not entirely clear. Do the plaques cause the disease, or are they just one symptom?
    Here’s hoping.
    I do not like the way the media sensationalises such stories. I have a friend with multiple sclerosis, and articles about breakthroughs for that disease are fairly common. Most of them do not pan out though.

  • mcbender

    This would be excellent news if true, as Alzheimer’s is bloody terrifying, but it won’t do to get our hopes up yet. It looks like a promising preliminary result, but we should wait for further testing before getting too excited…

  • geocatherder

    Super, super news… if it plays out in humans! I was blessed (yes, atheists can still be blessed) that neither of my parents suffered more than very minor cognitive disfunction before they died. I may not be so lucky with my in-laws, and I’m the one most likely to be signed up to care for them. Miracle drugs — yay!

    Hank, one person’s (dinosaur) turd is another person’s sculpture:

  • Luna_the_cat

    The problem is that so few of these “cures” survive the leap from mice to humans….and hope hurts when it gets broken.

    I reserve judgment until I see the human trials.

  • F

    This looks good. If this doesn’t directly apply to humans, it at least seems like some critical things are being identified here.


    This drug has been available for 8 or 9 years, It would seem as though they would have given it to alzheimers patients with skin cancer at some point in time. As an alzheimer care giver I pray to god it works.

  • Crys

    It annoys the crap out of me how the media never seems to be able to give the reference of the fucking paper they are commenting on (are they afraid someone will actually read it?!) It took me forever to find it.

    If anyone else is interested it’s:
    Cramer, P.E.; Cirrito, J.R; Wesson, D.W; Lee, C.Y.W; Karlo, J.C.; Zinn, A.E.; Casali, B.T.; Restivo, J.L.; Goebel, W.T.; James, M.J.; Brunden, K.R.; Wilson, D.A.; Landreth, D.E. (2012) ApoE-Directed Therapeutics Rapidly Clear β-Amyloid and Reverse Deficits in AD Mouse Models. Science[DOI:10.1126/science.1217697]

    I’m actually going to read this paper now and see how much it’s been hyped :)

  • Crys
  • jennifer

    the bexarotene was not yet approve due to it was only tested into a mice so it still doesn’t prove that the drug can really cure the disease in human being, and also because of the side effects of the drug.

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