A recent study done at UR’s Medical Center has led to FDA approval of Memantine, a drug used to aid those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is the first in the United States to be approved for use in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. Memantine does not cure the disease but is effective in combating the symptoms and improving those in the late stages of the disease.

“The important point about Memantine is that it is the first medicine proven effective,” Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UR Anton Porsteinsson said, who helped conduct the study. “It offers a promise to those suffering from the disease.”

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative condition which affects one’s brain, causing dementia, a loss of memory and loss of judgment leading to an inability to perform daily life functions. The disease is often very painful on the patient’s families as they are forced to watch their loved ones slip away.

The German pharmaceutical company Merz developed Memantine during the ’80s. Its original uses, however, were somewhat unclear.

“It was used almost like a tonic” to treat a wide variety of memory disorders, Porsteinsson said.

It wasn’t until the ’90s that Merz started using the drug as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. It was then that serious medical studies began on the drug.

It was also in the ’90s when Porsteinsson’s son told him about a company he had invested in, Merz.

“I’ve been interested in Memantine for a while,” Porsteinsson said. His research group was originally offered a chance to participate in the study but had to turn it down. Fortunately, the opportunity arose again.

“We jumped at the opportunity when we had the time and availability. We felt it would be helpful to the people we take care off,” Porsteinsson said.

The study conducted at URMC was one of three that led to the approval of the drug. The study followed patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease for six months. Patients were split into two groups. One received Memantine while the other received a placebo. Both groups, however, continued usage of any medicine they were on previous to the study.

At the conclusion of the study, the patient’s cognitive activities involving judgment and awareness and functional activities were measured. Those on Memantine and their older medicine showed a slight increase in their functional ability over those on the placebo.

It should be noted that both groups showed a decrease in functional abilities. The decline in the group on Memantine was much less severe than those not taking it. “I wouldn’t characterize this as a silver bullet,” Porsteinsson said. He continued to say that it is something to offer those who are starting to lose hope.

There has been much excitement in the medical community over the release of this drug. The drug has been used to treat people with Alzheimer’s disease in Europe since 2002 and was approved in the United States on Oct. 17, 2003. The drug should be available in early January of 2004.

Pisarski can be reached at apisarski@campustimes.org.

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