CHICAGO — A new treatment for Alzheimer's disease significantly slowed elderly patients' mental decline and may have revealed a new way of attacking the illness, according to a study presented Tuesday at a Chicago medical conference.
In a study involving 321 Alzheimer's patients in Britain and Singapore, the treatment was found to reduce the rate of mental loss by 81 percent compared with a group that received a placebo, according to a standard test that measures cognitive performance and memory.
The experimental drug, Rember, takes a new approach: breaking up the protein tangles that clog victims' brains. The encouraging results electrified a field battered by recent setbacks. The drug was developed by Singapore-based TauRx Therapeutics.
The compound has previously been used as a blue dye and for some other medical conditions. TauRx's chief is Claude Wischik, a biologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
The benefit from the new drug is about double the effect of drugs currently in use to slow Alzheimer's, experts said.
Even if bigger, more rigorous studies show it works, Rember is still several years away from being available, and experts warned against overexuberance. But they were excited.
"These are the first very positive results I've seen" for stopping mental decline, said Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, director of Alzheimer's research at the National Institute on Aging. "It's just fantastic."
The federal agency funded early research into the tangles, which are made of a protein called tau and develop inside nerve cells.
Wischik said that if further tests show promise, the treatment could be available for general use by 2012 or 2013.