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Farmington Hills Clinic Fighting Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

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Neurons in the brain. Photo CBS News

Neurons in the brain. Photo CBS News

FARMINGTON HILLS — Clinical studies under way now at the Michigan Institute of Neurological Disorders and the Quest Research Institute may lead to improved treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Aaron Ellenbogen, D.O., principal investigator of central nervous system research and a neurologist at MIND, said current treatments for Alzheimer’s “leave something to be desired. They have modest impact at best, and are geared toward mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients.”

A new drug under study, Ellenbogen said, directly targets the plaques that tangle up neurons “and is hopefully breaking them apart. The end result will be stopping or slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s.” The drug’s design uses the body’s own immune system to get the drug past the blood-brain barrier to the plaques, Ellenbogen said.

The study is using a recently FDA-approved imaging techniques for identifying the plaques — and, hopefully, their destruction.

Ellenbogen is also involved in a study of a new drug to treat pre-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as impaired cognition, depression, restless sleep, loss of the sense of smell and constipation. The drug will target the protection of dopamine-producing neurons, Ellenbogen said.

“Most people have already lost 70 percent fo these neurons when the first motor symptoms present,” Ellenbogen said. “Dopamine is crucial to movement in a fluid fashion.”

Dolly Niles, executive director of the Quest Research Institute, said the institute is now starting a trial of a new approach to treating epilepsy, looking at the disease as an inflammation disorder. “The idea is to reduce the inflammation of certain cells in the brain that are causing the seizures to occur,” Niles said.

Even with current drugs, Niles said, “30 percent of epileptics are considered refractory — their seizures are not controlled.”

The two institutions are also involved in a study of a new gene therapy treatment for diabetic neuropathy, a nerve disorder associated with diabetes that can cause burning or pins-and-needles sensations in the arms and legs.

This will be crucial in the future, Niles said, because America’s obesity epidemic means millions more Americans with metabolic syndrome who will probably go on to develop diabetes. “There is a huge epidemic of neuropathy coming,” she said.

The current standard of care for neuropathy has “huge issues with how it gets absorbed,” Niles said. There are also trials of new formulations to improve that absorption.

For more information on Quest Research Institute and its many clinical trials, visit www.questri.com. For more information on volunteering for a clinical trial, visit www.centerwatch.com.

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