Video: Alzheimer's antibodies

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/12/2005 7:24:35 PM ET 2005-04-12T23:24:35

Wing Soohoo, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, remembers much from the past, like emigrating from China.

"We landed in [a] Canadian port," he says.

But he remembers little from the present. He is one of eight patients who took the experimental treatment and did well for six months.

"He at least seems to have stabilized, and has not gotten any worse," says his son, Dennis.

And even though this is a tiny, early result, researchers say it could open a new path to treating Alzheimer's.

"I have a very high degree of enthusiasm about what I've seen so far," says Dr. Norman Relkin, an associate professor of clinical neurology and neuroscience at the Weill Cornell Medical College.

The treatment starts with the theory that some people have antibodies that make them naturally immune to Alzheimer's, by preventing plaque from forming in the brain. The key is transferring the disease-fighting antibodies from healthy people to actually destroy the plaque in those with the disease.

So how can doctors get antibodies from healthy people to fight Alzheimer's? With a substance called IVIg, which stands for "IntraVenous Immunoglobulin." It is a plasma containing antibodies, pooled from thousands of healthy people.

But the substance — already on the market for other uses — is very expensive, about $10,000 a month. And there could never be enough to treat everyone with Alzheimer's. So this is only a first step.

"My hope is that once this approach is verified that we'll be able to refine it and make a synthetic product that can be produced in large quantities and relatively inexpensively," says Dr. Relkin.

The goal is finding a pure form of the body's natural defense against Alzheimer's that might someday treat people with the disease or even immunize against it.

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