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USF receives $1.6 million to study Alzheimer’s

The National Institute of Aging recently granted a research group at USF $1.6 million to study the effects of the drug NCX-2216 on Alzheimer’s sufferers.

“Alzheimer’s disease is increasing in numbers in the population, and we’re very interested in finding a way to prevent symptoms from occurring or to slow them down,” said Paul Jantzen, a graduate student who works with the research group.

A group of people who are conducting similar research have come together as the Alzheimer’s Research Laboratory, said Marcia Gordon, associate professor for the department of pharmacology and therapeutics. Together, they have received $5 million in grants from NIA, a part of the National Institute of Health, the leading federal source of research grants.

Gordon is working with mice whose genes have been mutated in the same way that causes Alzheimer’s in humans. Because they know the mice will develop Alzheimer’s, the researchers can test drugs they hope will cure the disease even before symptoms occur.

Gordon said the only problem with their study is that there is no way to tell if humans are going to develop Alzheimer’s until symptoms begin to show.

“Once an Alzheimer’s patient is showing symptoms, too much damage has been done to fix it,” Jantzen said. “The best we can do at that point is slow it down.”

After the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s arise, the disease can either progress quickly in a few years or the development can drag out for 10 to 20 years, said Jantzen.

Epidemiologists try to find risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s. One study found that people who regularly take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Tylenol, Motrin or Advil, are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, long-term use of these NSAIDs can lead to stomach irritation, including gastrointestinal bleeding and stomach ulcers.

Therefore, the research group is testing nitric-oxide-releasing NSAIDs, referred to as nitro-NSAIDs. These, Gordon said, may minimize side effects.

NCX-2216, the component the researchers are currently working with, is a nitric-oxide-releasing drug. The positive results they’ve had with this study resulted in the grant they recently received, Jantzen said.

“I’ve been involved with this research for six years, and in that time we come across many potential therapies,” Jantzen said. “This is the most exciting so far.”

The group is also conducting a study that looks at different NSAIDs, to see if any of them are more effective against Alzheimer’s.

Researchers conduct animal research to see which components are the most effective before they conduct trials with humans. This way, they are sure the drug is safe before they administer it to humans, Gordon said.