ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Over the last five years, Jim Manuel says he slowly started to lose bits and pieces of his life. Pieces so small, it was easy for his wife and kids to think he was imagining it.
“There are just parts that I don’t remember as clear, and I don’t trust my memory as much. Also names, where it used to be like that, now it may take me a second or two—or maybe a couple—to be able to come up with it,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“Initially, I put it off. For six months to a year, I would say, I was scared. It was like if I acknowledged it, it makes it real,” he goes on to say.
However, Manuel, 62, says it was hard to ignore his family history. He lost both his parents and grandparents to dementia, with his mother passing just a little more than one year ago. “[It’s] terrifying, you know? I feel like I know what’s gonna happen if I do nothing, so therefore it is so critically important that I do something,” he says through emotion.
Manuel is now a patient at Neurological Associates of Albany—a local Alzheimer’s research and treatment center. Dr. Richard Holub says his office will be one of only 46 in the nation participating in a new Phase 3 clinical trial for LIFT-AD. The therapy by Athira Pharma is able to penetrate the wall protecting the brain called the “blood-brain barrier.”
“They developed a small molecule which can be delivered by an insulin-like syringe. Once a day, and it’s very well received,” Dr. Holub explains.
LIFT-AD is designed for those with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms and aids by activating one of the brain’s naturally occurring regenerative systems, the HGF/MET pathway. Holub says this treatment option represents a new wave of Alzheimer’s research targeting the small, early contributors to the disease to hopefully prevent cognitive decline before it starts.
“In the brain and in neurodegenerative disease, there are forces that are promoting degeneration and there are counter forces focusing on regeneration. In Alzheimer’s disease, the degenerative forces gradually win over a long period of time, but what we call ‘neurotrophic factors’ push from the positive side against the progression of the disease to stabilize, slow down the disease, and potentially improve patients,” Dr. Holub explains.
“[LIFT-AD] initiates a cascade of events that are positive. So it’s neuroprotective, it’s neurorestorative, it reduces inflammation in one way. By another way, it improves blood flow,” he says. “If the trial goes well, as I hope it does, I could expect to see a measurable improvement in patients.”
He says the drug also stimulates the P300 system of the brain, which is critical to measuring the progression of Alzheimer’s. He says a successful treatment can lead to better cognitive processing and working memory. Until 2021, the FDA had not approved a new Alzheimer’s treatment in more than 15 years. With only five approved methods on the market, the more than five million Americans suffering from the disease had little to choose from.
Dr. Holub says the LIFT-AD trial is one of many now surfacing thanks to a new understanding of the brain. “There’s this explosion of understanding, and we realize that it’s in our grasp. It’s a hopefulness I can say we haven’t had in the 30-something years I’ve been doing this research,” Holub says. “Just in the last year or two, there’s a certain optimism, a certain sense, that we’re going to get there.”
“The first patient to be cured of Alzheimer’s is out there right now. So I mean, whether it’s me or someone else, that is energizing,” says Manuel.
Although he’s not currently enrolled in the LIFT-AD trial, Manuel says he came to Neurological Associates of Albany for just such opportunities. “I could not be more enthusiastic. If I had to hitchhike to get here, I would do it. What really appealed to me is that they’re looking for people that are like me, pretty much asymptomatic or in the early stages. That drive like we’re going to get ahead of it, that’s obviously a lot more desirable than getting to the day where I don’t remember my wife’s name. I feel like even if we don’t succeed, at least I contributed something,” he says.
Neurological Associates of Albany is currently looking for eligible participants in the LIFT-AD trial. Visit the research center’s website here or call 518-426-0575.