For the first time, researchers are reporting that a treatment might help stabilize Alzheimer's disease for as much as three years, although the evidence is weak and found in only four patients. Doctors say that four patients who have been receiving the highest dose of Gammagard, made by Baxter International, for three years showed no decline on memory and cognition tests. A dozen others on different doses or shorter treatment times didn't fare as well.
This study was far too small to prove the treatment works, but a more rigorous one involving 400 patients will give results within a year. Still, the findings from the small study encouraged doctors at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they were presented yesterday. Gammagard is intravenous immune globulin, or IVIG—multiple, natural antibodies culled from donated blood. Half a dozen companies already sell IVIG to treat immune system and blood disorders; they may help remove amyloid, the sticky plaque that clogs patients' brains, sapping memory and ability to think.