New approach: blood washing against Alzheimer's

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New therapeutic approach: special blood washing could improve Alzheimer's and dementia sequelae in the future.

Scientists at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin have apparently managed to develop a new treatment approach in Alzheimer's therapy. With the help of blood washing, the consequences of the incurable disease could be significantly reduced. Initial successes have already been achieved in the course of a study. However, the research approach is still in its infancy and further large-scale studies are necessary to clinically secure the results available.

Blood wash could improve memory performance
At the beginning of the research, the scientists asked themselves whether some forms of Alzheimer's are caused by an autoimmune disease. It could be possible that the human organism is mistakenly directed against its own immune system. Based on this question, Berlin doctors and researchers from the Charité University Hospital and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch were looking for new therapeutic approaches to treat Alzheimer's and dementia. Both research institutes found various antibodies from an erroneously misdirected immune response in the blood sera of Alzheimer's patients. In two experiments, the researchers were able to use a special blood wash on the test subjects to remove the antibodies from the bloodstream. Subsequent evaluations showed a clear improvement in the patient's state of health. Among other things, memory performance was significantly improved. So far, only a few people have been treated with this method.

Too few case numbers to secure knowledge
According to Richard Dobel from the German Society of Neurology, the results are "very exciting and also a new approach". Based on the current data situation, it is still too early to fuel patients' hopes for an immediately available therapy. According to the expert, further studies must follow in order to substantiate the results.
The research team also admits that "the number of cases is still very low," explained Marion Bimmler from the MDC. So far, only a small group of patients has been treated and observed between six months and one year. According to the expert, the first results are promising.

Immune system defenses damage blood vessels in the brain
In a second experimental setup, the scientists achieved another breakthrough in cooperation with the Max Delbrück Center. In an animal experiment, it was found that certain immune system defense substances damage blood vessels in the brain.

For the first time, it was possible to demonstrate that certain "incorrectly regulated immune system defenses definitely damage blood vessels in the brain", as the team reported in the specialist magazine "PloS ONE". The substances of the immune system would be misguided antibodies that fight the own organism (1-AR antibodies). In the experiment, the researchers were able to use magnetic resonance imaging to prove at laboratory rates that these autoantibodies bind to certain surface proteins of cells in the blood vessels. This process in turn damages the brain. It causes permanent stimulation of the receptors and thus a thickening of the vessel walls. Because the vessels are poorly supplied with blood, “no pollutants such as plaques can be removed,” explained the study leader Bimmler. For this reason, the scientific team, in cooperation with the geriatric department at the Charité Clinic, attempted to subject patients with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia to a special blood wash. With the result: “In the six to twelve months since treatment, the memory and everyday skills of the treated patients improved significantly. However, the condition of others who stopped treatment deteriorated dramatically, ”reports the researcher.

Blood washing could help many Alzheimer's patients
If the new approach to standard therapy were developed, many patients with Alzheimer's and dementia could benefit from it. According to the researcher, "around half of Alzheimer's or dementia patients carry such antibodies". Until then, further clinical evidence and numbers from large-scale studies would have to follow in order to secure previous findings. “Taken together, we provided evidence in the present study that the special antibodies cause damage to the brain vessels in a rat model. Our data suggest that the antibodies are also responsible for diseases of the central nervous system such as stroke and dementia, ”as the study authors sum up in the journal.

Similar research approach with the same consequence
The team led by neurologist Harald Prüß from the Charité Berlin is pursuing a similar, yet somewhat different research approach. Although they also assume that symptoms of dementia are caused by a misdirected immune system and are therefore treatable as a result of an autoimmune disease, they are looking for other antibodies. They suspect that the special antibodies against a certain ion channel in the brain (NMDA) are produced and consequently damage the functions of the nerves.

Irrespective of this, blood washing had an equally promising therapeutic effect. Similar to the "Bimmler study", the number of subjects was low in the "Prüß study" in order to provide clear evidence. For this reason, the scientists plan to undertake a large-scale study in a few months to show how high the proportion of antibody carriers is in Alzheimer's patients. In addition, patients with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and Parkinson's disease should also participate. Prüß could not reveal anything specific yet, but her “share is relevant,” says Prüß. (sb)

Read on:
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Dementia and Alzheimer's
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Dementia: holistic treatment approach
Alzheimer's is far from curable

Image: Gerd Altmann /

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Video: Drug Discovery Programme - Alzheimers Society Dementia Research

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