NEW YORK (PIX11) — It’s estimated that more than six million Americans have Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disease that is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
With no known cure, it’s feared that with an aging population, the numbers will rise significantly in the coming years. Researchers are developing and testing new treatments they hope will improve the quality of life of ailing patients.
Janice Scansaroli is one of ten Alzheimer’s patients currently taking part in an FDA-approved investigational therapy at Neurological Associates in Lake Success, Long Island. The 70-year-old Manhasset woman was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s three years ago.
Janice’s husband, Jay, said It has been a slow progression over the past ten years.
“Janice was having trouble walking, no communication with people, sort of out of it for the most part,” he recalled.
Dr. Vincent DeOrchis, Director of Neurology at St. Francis Hospital, was consulted, and an MRI of Janice’s brain revealed just how far the disease had advanced. Looking at the image of an MRI, he pointed to an area he said it showed a lot of atrophy and thinning of the brain.
“It’s one of the first areas of the brain that becomes involved in Alzheimer’s type dementia.” he said, adding, “We believe it’s the inflammation in the brain that’s promoting a lot of disruption.”
Since last January, Janice has been part of a novel test therapy designed to clear the inflammation.
“This is not a drug. It’s the patient’s own blood cells. We take the white blood cells, the Natural killer cells, increase the number of those cells, enhance them and transfer them back into the patient’s own body,” DeOrchis pointed out.
NK Gen Biotech performs the blood workup. According to DeOrchis, the once-a-month treatment at Neurological Associates Long Island office is safe, with no adverse side effects and is as simple as drawing blood during a routine test.
He said the transfusion of cells into a patient is showing encouraging results.
“They act in the brain to reduce the amount of inflammation, which we know is at a very high level, especially in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s type dementia,” DeOrchis said.
After nine months, Janice and nine others taking part in phase one of the experimental test reportedly are showing promising results in their cognitive abilities. However, doctors note the therapy will not cure the patients of Alzheimer’s.
“What we’re really looking for is at a fundamental level,” DeOrchis declared, “How well is the brain running? Is the patient able to do things more independently?”
Her husband of 50 years said he’s seen a change.
“I think Janice is more alert, has a higher energy level, walking on her own, communicating from time to time in terms of sentences and she’s interacting with grandchildren,” he said.
Dr. Phil DeFina of the International Brain Research Foundation is encouraged by the results of the almost year-long medical probe.
“I believe this is the right step for future treatment of advanced Alzheimers because reducing inflammation processes is very important in reversing the effects of this disease,” DeFina said.
“I think it’s probably going to turn a page in Alzheimer’s research for the next ten years,” DeOrchis said.
Doctors stress that this experimental treatment is not a cure but an experimental therapy that can potentially improve the quality of life of patients living with advanced Alzheimer’s. But there’s a lot more testing to be done. Phase two of clinical trials is expected sometime later this year.