Substance Derived from Amazon Rainforest Plant as Possible Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease

03/02/00    Portland, Ore.

A tropical vine that grows in the jungles of South America and Asia may have the power to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. That's the hope of researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University. Scientists in OHSU's Oregon Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center are conducting a clinical trial to study the possible benefits of the woody vine known as Uncaria tomentosa, or Cat's Claw. Currently, thousands of people worldwide take compounds extracted from Cat's Claw as dietary supplements.

Researchers at OHSU are interested in a particular extract, derived from the bark of the vine, called PTI-00703. It has been shown to stop the formation of, and break up beta-amyloid deposits in both a test tube and animal models. Past research shows that beta-amyloid may be responsible for brain cell death and decay, and has been connected to Alzheimer's disease.

OHSU scientists are currently looking for 40 patients who are mildly affected with Alzheimer's disease to take part in the one-year study. Some patients will receive the plant extract in a pill form, others will be given a placebo. Throughout the study, beta-amyloid levels will be measured through spinal fluid samples over a period of months, and cognitive tests will be given to patients to assess possible improvement in cognitive decline. Two pharmaceutical companies, Rexall and Proteotech, are sponsoring this research.

Jeffery Kaye, M.D., professor of neurology and director of the Oregon Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center at OHSU, hopes this research eventually will lead to the development of a drug that stops Alzheimer's disease in its tracks. "If this extract performs the same function in the human body as it does in a laboratory, we may have a weapon to battle this debilitating disease," Kaye said. "Eventually, our hope is that we can not only stop or slow the progression of Alzheimer's in the human brain. We would like to witness a reversal of the effects."

The Oregon Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center at OHSU is one of the nation's leading research and treatment centers in neurodegenerative diseases. In cooperation with the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the center combines research, diagnosis, and care for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. An estimated 4 million Americans, including approximately 60,000 Oregonians currently suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Editors: Patients interested in taking part in this study can call (503) 494-9399 for more information.