By Chris Adams

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. But the Laboratory for Dementia and Parkinsonism at Georgetown University Medical Center is evaluating potential therapeutic drugs for the devastating diseases in pre-clinical and clinical trials.

Dr. Charbel Moussa, an associate professor of neurology at Georgetown and director of the lab, gave National Press Foundation fellows an update on brain diseases, as well as the work his lab is doing to test drug therapies.

An estimated 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, nearly all of them 65 or older. An estimated half a million people have Parkinson’s. Both of those numbers are expected to swell in coming decades as the population ages.

Moussa gave a breakdown of the biology of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia, which has symptoms of both of the other diseases.

While there is medication that can delay the progression of Alzheimer’s, and there are therapies that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, that’s about it.

“There is no good therapy for them – no good cure,” Moussa said.

His lab is exploring the use of a leukemia chemotherapy agent, nilotinib, in Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. An early-stage clinical trial found that after six months, nilotinib improved motor function with no serious side effects, and improved cognition as well. But the study was very small – just 12 patients – and lacked a placebo group; for those reasons, among others, Moussa and his colleagues reported that “any conclusions should be drawn cautiously.”