Study: Gene therapy may reduce effects of Alzheimer's

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A small study using gene therapy to treat Alzheimer's patients proved to slow the progression of the disease, according to initial reviews of the evidence.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, took skin cells from patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's and modified the genes to secrete a protein found in healthy brains called nerve growth factor, or NGF. Then the doctors performed surgery on the patients to implant the NGF-producing skin cells directly onto their injured spots in the brain.

Lead researcher Dr. Mark Tuszynski and colleagues followed six patients for nearly two years and performed tests on them to determine the rate of decline of their memory and other cognitive skills. The gene therapy surgical procedure was found to slow the patients' cognitive decline by 36% to 51%, better than is typically observed with medication, according to Tuszynski.

Researchers caution that the procedure is not a cure and that additional research will be needed to further explore practical uses of growth factors in the treatment of Alzheimer's. The report is published in the April issue of Nature Medicine.