Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease Research

More from this show

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute, discusses the latest clinical research on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Ted Simons: The nonprofit Banner-Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. It's one of 29 Alzheimer's disease centers in the country a designation by the national institutes of health. Banner-Sun Health Research Institute research programs are helping doctors better diagnosis and treatment towards of aging such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Joining me to talk about the institute's work is Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, a neurologist and director of the Banner-Sun Health Research Institute. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: Are we seeing promise in the slowing of Alzheimer's disease?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: Ted, I think the answer is actually yes. We know Alzheimer's a terminal disease, as you and I know it. Two of the trials in development for Alzheimer's disease, two in which are vaccine or immunotherapies that will announce their results later this year, which we can as soon as next year if they're positive. These are drugs intended to clear the disease and actually slow the progression.

Ted Simons: At which point, give us a time table here, if these do pass all the tests, when do they become available to patients?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: As soon as 2013. Now going to get approval, you know you have to go through three rounds of testing. They are in the final round. These are drugs tested on thousands of people worldwide and we expect to see the results announced in the fall of this year.

Ted Simons: That's certainly encouraging. What's the latest in diagnosing this disease?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: That's where I think the real excitement is. Is that with Alzheimer's disease we used to say that you could diagnose with an autopsy and in my experience an autopasy is a little bit too late to make a diagnosis. But the reality is that there's been these new technologies including P.E.T scans. Now P.E.T. scans have been used for 15 years or so for cancer. There are new amyloid contrast imaging agents that you inject in the blood stream they light up the brain and if you have positive amyloid you will most likely have Alzheimer's disease. The first one is expecting to get approval as early as April of this year and we could be on the market by this summer.
Ted Simons: These are basically chemicals injected into you and they become neon when they latch onto something that shouldn't be there or you don't want to be there. How were these discovered?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: These were discover it is from -- we used to take autopsy tissue and stain them to look at them under the microscope. Somebody got the creative idea of taking those stains and saying, what if we put radioactivity on them, and that's what they did. 10 years ago this technology didn't even exist.
Ted Simons. And this is a noninvasive biomarker isn't it. That is a big deal.
Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: That's a big deal. And I have to say the thing about this that's so exciting is that when these compounds were created among the first places they were studied were in Arizona, both at the Banner Alzheimer's institute and the Banner-Sun Health Research Institute, and the Arizona Alzheimer's Institute. So we were among the leading centers to do those kinds of studies.

Ted Simons: As far as genetic studies, lifestyle choices, environmental factors, are we seeing any development in those lines?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: Absolutely. There's clear evidence that diet and lifestyle changes could impact brain health and brain function and that certain types of diets can promote Alzheimer changes and certain other types of dietary changes can reduce risks.

Ted Simons: Give us a capsule summary. What do you watch out for?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: What do I watch out for? If I had to do a capsule summary, I would tell you to improve your brain health, a Mediterranean diet, a diet that has curry and some other anti- oxidants, blueberries. Something good for heart health, fish would be on that list. Things that seem to promote Alzheimer's would be diets high in saturated fat.

Ted Simons: Saturated fat. You really got to watch out for.

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: The irony of it all is everyone is talking about coconut oil. I want to warn you because coconut oil is good for the brain but bad for the heart otherwise.

Ted Simons: With all this information can the threshold for impairment, can that be changed, as well? Is it somewhat of a moving goalpost, in the sense that this person has X, it's affecting them a whole lot. This person has X and they are getting along. How do you do that? Seems like that's awfully complicated.

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: There is a moving target. You're taking on the totality of each individual, health, genetic risk, lifestyle, diet, medical conditions and trying to address them. Everybody's a little different in that regard. I think that's really where we will see personalized medicine really take off. Some people are at higher genetic risks than others. We're trying to offset those genetic risks as best we can. We may not be able to but we hope to.

Ted Simons: I thought I read somewhere along the lines of copper being looked at as perhaps an environmental factor in terms of later or current development of Alzheimer's. What's that all about?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: The interesting thing is 25 years ago people were all excited about aluminum, if you remember the story about aluminum. That has really kind of punctuated the idea that we have metals and ions in our body, magnesium, copper, aluminum, and we're trying to figure out what interaction the body and the brain has to them. Some people think that too much copper in our blood stream may promote Alzheimer's changes in the brain. That's not universally agreed upon. It's been very controversial but I think people are taking the idea that if you extract ions out of your body, that would be a good thing.

Ted Simons: So other trace medals as well or just copper?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: Copper, magnesium and possibly zinc people are looking at.

Ted Simons: We're talking about Alzheimer's disease but I don't want to neglect Parkinson's, another major factor here in terms of end of life issues. And just aging issues the whole nine yards. Are you seeing progress there?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: In many ways I think the progress in Parkinsons disease especially in the last quarter century has been better than Alzheimer's. They have tried gene therapy on Parkinson's disease, they have a couple of dozen medications to protect people with Parkinson's disease compared to 3 or 4 for Alzheimer's disease. I think in many ways Parkinson's has made a lot of progress compared to Alzheimer's.

Ted Simons: We've got about a minute left here. Talk about Arizona's position in this kind of research. Are we at the cutting edge?

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: The interesting thing, 25 years ago Banner-Sun Health Research Institute was founded, Alzheimer's was really into obscurity in terms of the Dark Ages. Not only have medical advances been explosive, Arizona really went from the back of the pack to the front of the pack as far as Alzheimer research. We have the best of Good Samaritan's clinical researchers, clinical trials, gene therapies, gene research and basic research of anyone in the United States.

Ted Simons: Doctor, very encouraging news, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh: Thank you very much.

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh:Director of Banner Sun Health Research Institute;

Birdwatching Across Arizona
airs June 7

Birdwatching Across Arizona

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

National Memorial Day Concert image
aired May 28

National Memorial Day Concert

NOVA will talk about how your brain determines your reality in
aired May 17

NOVA’s two part series on “Your Brain”

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: