A new drug called IVIG is being touted as the next big breakthrough in Alzheimer’s treatment. But is it really the wonder drug the press claims?
This past summer, one of the big-ticket news items in Alzheimer’s disease research was IVIG, or intravenous immunoglobulin, a drug which may hold off dementia and other symptoms for three years. Could the millions of Americans living with Alzheimer’s soon have their suffering alleviated? A closer analysis by health research firm Bazian and the UK’s National Health Service reveals the truth behind the headlines.
Intravenous immunoglobulin, which is made with antibodies gathered from donated blood, is already used in treating some severe infections and autoimmune diseases. Administered intravenously, it helps reduce the risk of infection in patients with immune-system deficiencies. For people with Alzheimer’s, it might encourage the immune system to fight off the abnormal clumps or plaques of protein that are characteristic of the disease.
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“The treatment is thought to work by clearing toxic proteins called beta amyloid from the brain, allowing brain cells to function properly,” said Dr. Anne Corbett of the Alzheimer’s Society.
In a preliminary press release, study participants who were injected with IVIG every two weeks for 36 months exhibited a positive outcome, with less decline (and, in a few cases, no decline) on standard measures of memory, cognition, daily functioning, mood, and behavior.
But, as promising as the new treatment sounds, it’s still in the early research phase. The study was done on a very small number of people—just 24—and it was not peer-reviewed. Generally, studies that are evaluated prior to publication by colleagues in the field are considered to be of higher quality and more rigorous. Therefore, the analysis stresses, scientists can only draw “limited conclusions” at this stage; but so far, it appears to have potential in slowing the progression of dementia symptoms.
Because of the small scale of this early study, more research is necessary in order to determine the safety and effectiveness of IVIG compared to existing Alzheimer’s treatments. Larger studies with more participants and a longer duration will help researchers get more accurate results, and also pinpoint any potential side effects.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Norman Relkin, reported: “It is crucial that we find effective, long-term treatments. This is the first study to report long-term stabilization of Alzheimer’s symptoms with IVIG. While the small number of participants may limit the reliability of our findings, we are very enthusiastic about the results.
The verdict is, though there’s plenty to be hopeful about with IVIG, there’s still quite a bit of research to be done before we can think about seeing it on the shelves. It could take 10 years to complete the research and address problems of cost-effectiveness before the drug becomes available. What can you do to help the process? You and your loved ones can help in the fight against Alzheimer’s by participating in clinical trials. For more information, visit the National Institute on Aging website.