August 23rd, 2010
12:38 PM ET

How arthritis fighter may help Alzheimer's

Sometimes the body's response to certain diseases appears to protect against other ailments. For example, scientists have found that people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease than the general population.

Researchers at the University of South Florida believe that the connection between these two conditions may lead to a treatment for Alzheimer's. They found that a protein released in rheumatoid arthritis helped mice recover from cognitive problems of Alzheimer's.

Their study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Research, looked at the protein GM-CSF, which naturally occurs in the human body in response to arthritis.

A synthetic version of this protein is used in the drug Leukine (sargramostim), given to cancer patients to help them recover from chemotherapy. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for use in cancer patients in 1991; Leukine is not, however, approved for use in Alzheimer's patients.

The protein stimulates the production of white blood cells. Macrophages, particular kinds of white blood cells, can enter the brain and get rid of amyloid deposits, which are signatures of Alzheimer's, said study author Huntington Potter, the Eric Pfeiffer Chair for Alzheimer’s Research at the University of South Florida.

Research suggests that Alzheimer’s disease in mice is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, he said. But, as with any mouse study, there is still uncertainty; there have been drugs that worked just fine in mice, but failed in humans or caused serious side effects side effects in humans.

Potter and colleagues are "cautiously optimistic" about the results, Potter said. They plan to conduct clinical trials in humans, have not yet received approval from the appropriate regulatory groups.

soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. cheryl

    From whom would information be available regarding signing up a loved one for the trials?

    August 23, 2010 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      contact the researcher: Huntington Potter at the University of South Florida. We are looking into starting clinical trials soon.

      August 23, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
  2. Randy

    Not true. My grandma had severe arthritis before she passed away due to Alzheimer.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Carole

      Is that like saying that your grandmother smoked and didn't get lung cancer, so smoking doesn't cause lung cancer?

      August 23, 2010 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
    • LK

      How does one pass away due to Alzheimer's?

      August 23, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
    • Stacey

      LK - eventually the body forgets how to do anything from eat to breath to wake up. Both of my grandmothers died from Alzheimer's. They just waste away as the brain stops functioning. What happens first depends upon which part of the brain is most affected.

      August 23, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • DenverGrl

      LK – very slowly and painfully. Eventually they forget how to perform basic tasks like eating, and finally breathing. It's horrible. If they are lucky, they will pass long before this stage due to other causes, many sometimes a result of the disease. For example, my dad had to be put into an Alzheimer's care facility because he because violent, would wonder off in the middle of the night, etc. He was dangerous to himself and everyone around him. While in the facility, he got himself out of bed one night and began trying to break through the security screens on the windows so that he could escape. In the process, he urinated on himself, because he was beginning to forget how to use the bathroom. He slipped and fell, and broke both of his hips and one leg. He died shortly after that. Alzheimer's is an evil disease.

      August 23, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff S

      LK – alzheimer's is a disease which causes deterioration of brain function. In the later stages, "...The overall nervous system regulating bodily functions is damaged so greatly that incontinence, difficulty in coordinating body movements and sometimes seizures results. The patient becomes emaciated to the point of a vegetative state." (efmoody dotcom site.) Essentially, alzheimer's affects the brain in such a way as to cause the body to die.

      August 23, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • Claire

      This article does not refer to "arthritis".... but rather the autoimmune disease "Rheumatoid Arthritis", which is totally different than osteoarthritis that most elderly people suffer from. The only thing RA and OA have in common is that it affects the joints. What "happens" to the joints are two different things altogether. In RA, the body's immune system attacks it's own healthy tissue. Osteoarthritis is caused by normal wear and tear of a joint, or damage to the protective cartilage.

      August 23, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
  3. Kim

    Did your grandmother have Rheumatoid arthritis or Osetoarthritis. There is a difference.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Claire

      Thank you! It's amazing how many people don't know there is a difference, and think "arthritis is arthritis". I have been suffering from RA for 13 years now. It's encouraging to think that one kind of suffering may just allelviate another.

      Ignorance hurts more than insults when it comes to understanding diseases and how they affect people's lives.

      August 23, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse |
  4. Cathy

    As much as I want to see any new information come out about this horrible disease my mother had both the RA and Alz. So....I don't put too much stock in this.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jon

      All research should be immediately suspended given your scepticism. If you're mother had RA and still developed Alz, then, obviously, this research is faulty. Everyone knows a sample size of N = 1 is sufficient to completely discredit further work into this avenue of research.

      Cathy, it's people like you who make me very pessimistic about the future of the human race. This research may prove a dead end, but your comment is absolutely moronic. How can we as a species survive our challenges when a small percentage has to compensate for the stupidity of the masses?

      August 23, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie

      The report states – has a lower incidence. So it doesn't mean if you have RA you won't get Alzheimer's.

      August 23, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Jon, could you be any more of a turd? Stop jumping down people's throats for a simple comment. Geez. Take a chill pill.

      August 23, 2010 at 17:30 | Report abuse |
  5. STEVE


    August 23, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. julie

    chris, not funny---–i lost my husband last year at age 50 due to this horrible disease, please do not make light of such a serious situation

    August 23, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cathy

    One usually passes away as a result of pneumonia which comes about because people with Alz. aspirate their food eventually.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Don

      True. True. True. It's horrible!

      August 23, 2010 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
  8. Buddha

    I can feel it in the pit of my gut that the next big medical cure/treatment is going to be for Alzheimers. Every day they keep on reporting a new connection or a new way to treat the disease. No clue how long its going to be but I'm putting all my money in a cure for this one coming soon, which I have to say id be glad. I would rather I die than slowly forget everyone iv grown to love.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. haz

    Believe me, it is a painful process to watch a loved one lose their ability to think, love, talk, eat, and then eventually breathe.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • abbydelabbey

      it's very sad - it's a horrible way to die - and for the family it's tragic because they lose their loved one twice - once when the Alzheimer's patient no longer knows family members, etc. and second when the body died.

      August 23, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
  10. mary

    Sounds good..I have had arthritis for years.. Good to know all this suffering might have a silver lining.. But of course my relief will only last until the next study that says different comes out..
    The problem with studies folks is that they are done by people who make their living off government grants...And every conclusion only gives some one else the ability to do another study on government funds to finds a way to disprove it..
    Thanks though..It will feel kinda good while it lasts...~!

    August 23, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff S

      Actually, a majority of research studies are done by, or with money from pharmeceutical corporations, or research teams at universities who earn money through partnerships with pharmeceutical corporations. In overall research funding (in all fields), only 10% is contributed by government. R&D for military research is a large proportion of this, so its likely that government provides less than 10% of the research funding in the medical field.

      August 23, 2010 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
  11. abbydelabbey

    someone asked about how someone dies of Alzheimer's - from webmd - If the person has no other serious illnesses, the loss of brain function itself will eventually cause death.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Pam

    Chris - think about who you're hurting before making fun of a disease you obviously don't understand. I hope you never have to watch a loved one go through this.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • abbydelabbey

      good for you. it's a tragic for the person and the family. my grandmother, uncle, and mother all died with the disease. (not good odds for me.)

      August 23, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
  13. haz

    you forget to breathe....you forget to live.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. abbydelabbey

    not funny. it's a horrid disease for the patient and family. i pray you never know it personally.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Sk

    Actually my father in-law has alzheimer's. He lives with me and my wife and we do take care of him. I can tell you that humor regarding the illness is an every day occurance on all our parts actually him more than us. Its a great coping mechanism for something you can't do anything about. You have to be able to make fun of the problems of having alzheimers to lighten the heart and the mood. Behing able to laugh at it is more theraputic than the constant depressing atmosphere the seriousness of the issue can cause.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andrea

      My dad hated when we joked, but we (adult kids) needed it to get by. I remember my brother standing at the bottom of the basement stairs calling my mom. We laughed until we cried. Of course, she didn't listen and couldn't have followed any instruction at that point, but still it was funny. Laughing and crying are very closely related with Alz. It's the only way to cope with such a hopeless disease and prognosis.

      August 23, 2010 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  16. Mike

    This is great news. I hope they can develop a treatment or vaccine for this horrible disease.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Mike

    just hope that you never get this horrible disease

    August 23, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jeff S

    There have also been studies from the National Institutes of Health regarding heavy metal chelation therapy for treatment of Alzheimer's. The science is sound, but the methods are inexpensive, which is probably why it hasn't been championed by any of the major pharmeceutical or healthcare corporations.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • adam

      A quick pubmed search will quickly show that the science is anything but 'sound'. Chelation therapy is one of those things that is pushed by quacks everywhere... not accusing you but the evil Big Pharma thing sounds awfully familiar....

      August 23, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff S

      Not sure if I can post a web link here, but here's the abstract. Its early research (mice), but quite promising. Regarding chelation therapy, there are a lot of quacks who have used some old, bad science to tout chelation for removal of cholesterol, but heavy metal chelation science is quite provable. (the question is what effect, if any, it would actually have on alzheimer's). Here's the link, hope it works: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11430801

      August 23, 2010 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
  19. Judy

    Chris – You must have an incredibly empty life to have nothing better to do than to make such heartless comments about an incredibly sad disease, perhaps someday when you are facing a devastating moment in your life, you will look back on your comments here and realize just how callous and stupid you were to others.

    August 23, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. HNIC

    A great and informative mini-series:


    August 23, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. HNIC

    As well, I encourage you to visit clinicaltrials.gov to find out about clinical trials in your area. As we embark on finding an effective treatment or even a cure for this disease, study volunteers and their families will play an extremely important role. Without you, our progress will be surely delayed.

    August 23, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Robin

    I unfortunately cannot believe this new report. My grandmother had severe Rheumotoid Athritis and Alzheimer's Disease. She succomed to her Alzheimer's and still had the arthritis at the time of her passing.

    August 23, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ralph

      Well, it said there was a decreased number, not that nobody with Rheumatoid Arthritis had Alzheimers. This could mean any number of things. Perhaps those people that still got RA weren't producing a significant enough of the protien to significan'tly effect the build up of the amyloid deposits or some other factor. The question would then be, if the protien were introduced medicinally instead of as a side effect of RA, would that treatment work on all Alzheimer's patients or would there still be people whose Alzheimers is resistant to the protien or need a larger quantity to affect the deposits? So, just because not everybody shows the same connection between RA and AD treatment doesn't mean that the connection doesn't exist, just means that there could be other factors affecting the results.

      August 23, 2010 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
  23. HNIC

    Hi Robin, this is unfortunate. However, not all people respond – meaning that not all medicines are 100% effective.
    Much research needs to be done – remember that they are still in pre-clinical testing (ie, animal studies). It could be that GM-CSF delays debilitation (or said another way, extends progression free survival) rather than actually preventing (or curing) AD.
    This is why we need people to volunteer for clinical trials.

    August 23, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. John Caldwell

    Chris, here's hoping you'll be repaid for your attitude. I've seen it eat away at a good person...maybe it'll take slower bites from your useless mind.

    August 23, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Andrea

    My mother was diag. with alz at 53 years old...we watched every stage until her death at age 71. She was kept home and clean and fed, which led to her longevity. In the end, she just stopped swallowing after years of being posey-strapped into a wheelchair while wearing adult diapers. Nothing good about the disease except that my father needed the "long goodbye" to come to terms with her eventual death. Saddest disease around. It aged him terribly.

    August 23, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. h4x354x0r

    My grandfather, in fantastic physical shape at 70, lived with alzheimer's for over 20 years. He spent 15 years not knowing anything; name, bathrooms, and even had to be fed. But the last 2 years, whatever alzheimer's is, was done with him. He leveled out, and even started learning again, like a newborn. He finally succumbed to pneumonia at 91.

    Recent studies have shown that another natural herb slows the progression of alzheimer's: cannabis. Go figure.

    August 23, 2010 at 17:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Maureen

    "scientists have found that people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease than the general population."
    The article didn't claim that people with RA never get Alz. – just a lower incidence. I hope the ressearch can help find a treatment for Alz, and that more strides are made in the treatment of RA – both are hideous diseases.

    August 23, 2010 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Mark

    Imagine being on a permanent trip, living as a guest in someone else's house and never getting to go home. That's the way it was for my Dad, because he didn't recognize his own house. It's an incredibly cruel disease!

    August 23, 2010 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. TB

    Many interesting comments on here....just want to clarify that NOT everybody with RA is immune to AD onset. However, the overwhelming majority of people with RA do not tend to get AD. Since NSAIDs that RA patients take have not been effective against AD in human clinical trials, the most logical explanation of RA patients being protective against AD onset would be the upregulated immune cells (leukocytes) involved in RA pathogenesis. These leukocytes have the ability to traverse the circulatory system and enter the brain. It has now been found that all three growth factors of these leukocytes, upregulated in RA, protects against AD, mainly by upregulation of peripheral bone marrow-derived immune cells. Of these growth factors, GM-CSF had the greatest effect against AD pathology. The human version of this drug is already FDA-approved and has proven extremely safe in its two decades of use. In fact, it is the only drug used to prevent fatal infections in patients with AML (a type of leukemia). Hopefully, it will show amelioration of AD, as well as improving the body's overall immune system.

    August 23, 2010 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Robster

    'Rheumatoid arthritis' and 'arthritis' seem to be used interchangeably in this article. Does every mention of 'arthritis' mean RA, or does the same effect occur with osteoarthritis? Thanks

    August 25, 2010 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Miles

    I'll take hope wherever I can get it. This study may lead to a dead end, it may not. Not sure anyone can fully appreciate the cruelty of this disease without seeing it happen in front of them. Watching the life slowly being sucked out of someone you love; to see someone once so vibrant, sharp and witty reduced to an empty shell makes you appreciate just how vulnerable you are.

    December 11, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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