After successful mouse models and studies that showed that Vitamin B3 can help reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms and lesions, Dr. Frank LaFerla, UC Irvine scientist and principal investigator of the experiment and Dr. Kim Green, lead author of the study and project scientist for the LaFerla lab, are now actively recruiting for patients to carry out a human clinical trial that is being funded by the Alzheimer’s Association.
The intention of these tests is to confirm that the vitamin’s effect in mice correlate with those who have Alzheimer’s disease (a neurodegenerative disease that contributes to memory loss).
Green points out that the lab selected Vitamin B3 due to its pharmacological properties to promote living longer successfully, rather than because it is a vitamin. Therefore, the lab uses vitamin B3 at far higher doses than required for its use as a vitamin.
LaFerla first noticed Vitamin B3’s effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s disease while his lab collaborated with UCI doctors Leslie Thompson and Joan Steffan. They showed that the drug class was therapeutic in models of Huntington’s disease (a type of neurological disorder) and LaFerla thought it would be worth evaluating the vitamin in his mouse models of Alzheimer’s.
“The studies done in our mouse models suggest that the compound can help reduce some selective aspects of Alzheimer’s pathology and improve the cognitive phenotype,” LaFerla said.
Vitamin B3 aids in protecting the central nervous system. In their study of mouse models, the vitamin noticeably reduced tangles of a protein called Tau, while not affecting levels of protein beta amyloid (a waxy translucent substance consisting primarily of protein that is deposited in some animal organs and tissue under abnormal conditions). Both cause a clogging of brain cells which lead to Alzheimer’s lesions. LaFerla also noted that Vitamin B3 can also improve a normal person’s memory.
LaFerla pointed out that the main advantage of Vitamin B3 is that it is a “safe compound that is widely available.” Vitamin B3 is water-soluble, sold over-the-counter and is cheap. It currently helps people with diabetes complications and also those who have certain skin conditions since it contains anti-inflammatory properties. The compound can also be found in foods such as chicken, fish, peanuts, pork, salmon, sunflower seeds, tuna, turkey and veal.
The drawback of Vitamin B3 is that it can be poisonous in high doses, but has only been tested on mice and has not yet been tested extensively on humans.
Past research has indicated that Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12 can also reduce Alzheimer’s. However, LaFerla is not sure whether Vitamin B3 has an additive effect with the other drug compounds or if it will work with the other vitamins or substances that were researched previously.
Green notes that Professor Steve Schreiber of neurology is heading the human clinical trial at UCI. Patients enrolled have mild-moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and will be treated with high doses of Vitamin B3 for six months, while their cognitive abilities are being measured. They will receive 1500 mg twice daily. It is not recommended that anyone else take this high dose, as patients in the trial will be monitored for any adverse side effects.
“These studies have not yet been done, but it is my own personal belief that combination therapies will be the most effective way of treating Alzheimer’s disease in humans,” LaFerla said.
Presently, medical treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is limited and no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease exists.
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