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Alzheimer's treatment shows promise in clinical trials

Danone drink based on MIT work does well in first human tests.
Richard Wurtman
Richard Wurtman

An Alzheimer's treatment based on MIT research has shown promise in its first clinical trials, according to results announced today at the 2008 Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

The results indicate that Souvenaid, a nutrient-rich drink made by French food-products company Danone (known in the U.S. as Dannon), may offer a new option in the management of patients with mild Alzheimer's disease.

The new clinical study, performed by Philip Scheltens of the Alzheimer Center of the VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, and sponsored by Danone Research, assessed the affects of the nutritional supplements in a randomized, double-blind, controlled study of 212 patients with mild Alzheimer's.

The investigators found a statistically significant benefit in mild Alzheimer's patients on the delayed verbal memory task in a group receiving the treatment, and also a significant effect in the subgroup of very mild patients. Subjects were tested with a verbal memory task and measures of improvement in quality of life.

The concept behind the treatment, a cocktail of three dietary supplements normally found in the bloodstream, was developed by MIT's Richard Wurtman, the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor of Neuropharmacology.

Wurtman developed the treatment as a new approach to tackling Alzheimer's — restoring the synapses, or connections between brain cells, that leads to cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients. Synapses, where information is passed between neurons, play a critical role in learning and memory. Wurtman's laboratory had previously shown that the cocktail treatment improves those functions in rodents.

"Pre-clinical research at MIT has shown that specific combinations of certain nutrients interact to enhance synapse formation and also improved cognitive function in several pre-clinical models," said Wurtman.

The nutrients included in Souvenaid are uridine monophosphate, choline, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, phospholipids, B vitamins and antioxidants. The clinical study showed that the drink was well-tolerated by patients and showed a good safety profile.

Uridine monophosphate, choline and omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are precursors to the fatty molecules that make up cell membranes, including the membranes of brain cells, which form synapses.

"We're very excited by these results and we look forward to further research on this product," Scheltens said. "This is an innovative, completely different approach and we believe that medical foods such as Souvenaid can be a valuable part of Alzheimer's disease management. We're committed to a high level of scientific rigor in the next trial to further test Souvenaid."

Editor's note: This story was adapted from news releases issued by Danone and by the Alzheimer's Association conference.

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