| Cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease | Tunes for Alzheimer's Patients |
| Staff Update from the Neuroimaging Laboratory | Thank You Breakfast | Clinical Trials | Upcoming Event |
Is There a relationship between cancer and Alzheimer’s disease?
By: Joshua Grill, Ph.D.
Alzheimer's disease and cancer are the two most feared medical conditions in the United States. Though both diseases increase in risk with older age, mechanistically they are opposites. Cancer represents abnormalities in processes that result in uncontrolled cell growth, while Alzheimer’s disease results in cell and synaptic (connections between brain cells) loss. Two recent studies also point to an inverse relationship in the occurrence of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease: having one of these conditions may result in a reduced risk for the other.
In a very large study in northern Italy, Musicco and colleagues examined the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (based on the frequency of anti-Alzheimer’s disease medication prescriptions, hospital discharge records, and insurance records) and all types of cancer among more than 200,000 persons age 60 or older in the local electronic medical system. In patients with a diagnosis of cancer, risk for Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by 35%. Among those with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, risk for getting cancer was reduced by 43%.
In another study, investigators at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine examined cancer and Alzheimer’s rates in more than 1000 participants age 70 or older from the Einstein Aging Study. The investigators made the Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnoses during the study, while the study volunteers self-reported any cancer diagnoses. Participants who had a diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancer before enrolling in the study or who received such a diagnosis during the study were 79% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps importantly, the degree to which risk was reduced was less when looking at all dementias (instead of Alzheimer’s disease specifically) and no risk reduction was observed when persons with all types of cancer (instead of just non-melanoma skin cancer) were included in analyses.
The specific link between non-melanoma skin cancers and Alzheimer's disease may be further supported by recent drug studies. In clinical trials of investigational drugs that aim to prevent formation of beta amyloid, the pathological protein that accumulates in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease, persons receiving the drugs were at increased risk to develop basal cell and squamous cell (i.e. non-melanoma) skin cancers. That is, development of this cancer was an adverse drug reaction to a drug meant to slow or stop Alzheimer’s disease. Development of these drugs has since been halted. Though the drug mechanism may still hold promise, more specific agents will be necessary to ensure patient safety.
Together, these findings suggest a potential connection, or rather a disconnection, between cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It will be critical for future research to better understand the molecular underpinnings of these relationships to better treat both diseases.
Musicco et al. Neurology 2013;81:322-328. White et al. Neurology 2013;80:1966-1972.
Tunes for Alzheimer’s Patients
Patients with severe Alzheimer's disease may respond to music, reducing behavioral symptoms, eliciting memories, and improving communication and socialization. Utilizing iPods, MP3 players, and other personalized music players permits an individualized approach to music therapy for severely demented patients through creation of playlists of music popular during their youth. The Easton Center recently initiated the Tunes for Alzheimer's Patients (TAP) program in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Memory & Music, as a means to aide patients with severe dementia who reside in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities in Los Angeles.
The Center is accepting donations of iPods, MP3 players, iTunes gift cards, headphones, and iPod/MP3 accessories and provides a tax write-off for these donations. In turn, donated items are distributed to certified elder care facilities in Los Angeles County that are serving people in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. For more information please visit TAP.
Staff Update from Dr. Apostolova's Neuroimaging Laboratory
Photo: David Avila (left) and Anna Blanken (right).
Two of Dr. Liana Apostolova’s finest Staff Research Associates, Kristy Hwang and Leslie Ramirez, recently left the UCLA/Easton Neuroimaging Laboratory to attend medical school. Their contributions have been instrumental to the tremendously successful Imaging and Genetic Biomarker Study for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (ImaGene-AD and ImaGene-PD). Kristy and Leslie will be missed for their dedication to their positions and their kindness in communicating with research participants and their families. They also demonstrated unprecedented scientific productivity during their tenure. To date they have co-authored 15 papers and 50 posters and presented their work at several international conferences.
Stepping in to take over is David Avila. David, who recently joined Dr. Apostolova’s team, has already immersed himself in coordinating research visits for ImaGene participants and in acquisition of the advanced research technology used in the UCLA/Easton Neuroimaging Laboratory. David is a recent graduate of the University of California, San Francisco, post-baccalaureate medical program and holds a Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Engineering from University of California, Irvine. Another new face, Anna Blanken, recently joined Dr. Apostolova’s team. Anna graduated from Pomona College with a major in Linguistics and Cognitive Science and a minor in Psychology. Please join us in thanking Kristy and Leslie for years of exceptional productivity and dedication and giving a warm welcome to David and Anna!
Thank You Breakfast
On Saturday, April 6th the Easton Center held its annual appreciation event to honor all of the volunteers who participate in research at the Center. As in the past, more than 140 participants and their loved ones gathered for good food, presentations on what researchers learned this year, and a lively question and answer session. This year, the Easton Center also honored 34 participants who have participated for 10 or more years.
As in the past, faculty including Drs. Ringman, Vinters, Apostolova, Kremen, Woo, and Grill presented. The newest faculty member in the Easton Center, Dr. Zaldy Tan, who is also the Medical Director of the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care (ADC) program, which is featured in this quarterly e-newsletter, also participated in the Thank You Breakfast. Dr. Tan informed attendees about the resources and referrals offered by the ADC and also participated in the panel discussion. Representatives from the Alzheimer's Association provided literature and resources for caregivers and those with AD. We look forward to hosting the next Thank You Breakfast in Spring 2014.
Clinical Research Opportunities
If you would like to advance Alzheimer's disease research, please consider participating at the Easton Center. Below are two current trials. For a complete list of enrolling studies, visit our website at www.eastonad.ucla.edu.
Study of an Antibody Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease:
Study of Brain Metabolic Effects of Axona®: