Medical Breakthroughs: Draining Alzheimer's Disease

BACKGROUND: It's estimated 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. It's a disease that becomes more common as we age. By age 85, approximately half of the population has this disease. Researchers say unless successful treatments are found, the number of people with Alzheimer's could surpass 8 million in the next 20 years.

NEW SHUNT TREATMENT: Now, researchers are using a well-established treatment to try to help Alzheimer's patients. The treatment uses a shunt to drain fluid from the brain. This is the gold-standard treatment for children born with water on the brain. A shunt is inserted in the head and a tube leads to the abdomen. The fluid is then drained from the body.

The COGNIShunt System is a device designed to increase the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. The theory is that as people age, the spinal fluid that washes the brain flows less freely. If a person has Alzheimer's disease, the flow is twice as slow. The fluid then gets stagnant and fills with toxic materials.

Clinical research shows these extra fluids that result in accumulation of neurotoxic proteins may play a significant role in the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The new shunt is designed to help accelerate the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid to the abdomen where it is discarded by the body.

SHUNT PILOT STUDY: Researchers found the shunt device worked in mice with Alzheimer's disease. So, researchers enlisted 29 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease for the pilot study.

By random selection, 15 of the patients got shunt implants and 14 did not. All of the patients continued taking their regular Alzheimer's drugs.

After a year, researchers found there was a big difference between the two groups. The 15 patients with the shunt showed a marked difference in mental function including better preservation of mental ability. In addition, the toxins found in the patients with the shunts also decreased, and none of the patients had any symptoms of overdrainage from the shunt.

CURRENT STUDY: A national study is underway to study the shunt in Alzheimer's patients. At least 256 patients from 25 sites across the United States will participate. Study participants will receive either an active shunt or an inactive shunt. They won't know which one they'll receive. Surgery and an overnight stay are required to insert the shunt.

Nine months after enrollment, participants will find out whether their shunt is active. If it's inactive, the patient may have the option of having an active shunt inserted.

If you are a patient or physician interested in this study, contact Eunoe, Inc. by calling 888-4MY-MIND (888-469-6463).


Mary Hardin
Indiana University School of Medicine
1110 W. Michigan, LO 401
Indianapolis, IN 46202
(317) 274-7722