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Is there a cure for Alzheimer's disease on the horizon?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
One of the most exciting developments in research on treating Alzheimer's disease I've heard about in a long time involves a medication that may prove to be a dual threat--kind of like Tim Tebow on a good day.

The medicine is called bexarotene, which is currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating some types of cancer. Neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University gave bexarotene to lab mice bred to develop  Alzheimer's disease. The results were nothing short of stunning.

For starters, the drug seemed to erase much of the damage in the little whiskered ones' brains that we think causes loss of memory and mental clarity associated with Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, bexarotene wiped out 75% of substances called beta amyloid plaques, which are closely linked to Alzheimer's in humans.

Even better, mice given bexarotene started behaving differently, in a very good way. Normally, a healthy mouse placed in a cage with tissue paper will instinctively turn the material into a nest. The mice with Alzheimer's seemed not to know what to do with tissue paper. Yet a few days after receiving bexarotene, they set to work and began converting the paper into cozy beds.

We're a long way from knowing whether bexarotene will ever be used to treat Alzheimer's disease symptoms in humans. (And there's no proof that giving this medicine to a man will convince him to make the bed.) But this research does offer reason for hope.

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