As co-director and founder of the Alzheimer’s Research Center at Regions Hospital, William Frey, PhD, can tell you a great deal about the brain chemistry behind Alzheimer’s disease. As the son of a father who died of a dementing illness in 2010, he can also tell you about the personal cost. The condition runs even stronger on his mother’s side: his maternal grandmother was one of nine siblings to die with dementia, and his aunt currently lives with the disease.
“Not only have I watched this happen to my relatives, but naturally I’m concerned about myself, my children and my siblings,” Dr. Frey says.
Dr. Frey began the Alzheimer’s Research Center in 1977. Today the center conducts internationally-recognized research that has led to the development of promising new treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and other brain disorders.
The center’s biggest accomplishment over his 34 years with the organization has been the development of the intranasal delivery method, which allows therapeutic agents to travel directly from the nose to the brain along the nerves involved in smell. This method uses nose drops and nasal sprays to effectively deliver medicines to the brain while avoiding the side effects of treatments made via injections, oral medications and other, more invasive methods.
“With injections and oral medications, medicines often have to be given in high doses to get around the blood-brain barrier, and this can lead to harmful side effects. Our delivery method uses a more direct route to the brain, so treatments that use it can be safer and more effective,” Dr. Frey says.
Government to fund additional testing of Alzheimer’s treatments
In the 14 years since Dr. Frey received his first patent for intranasal treatment and in the 11 years since he received a patent for his invention of the intranasal insulin treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, interest in his discoveries has grown dramatically, though funding from the federal government has been a bit slower to catch on.
Recently, however, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined an ambitious national plan to fight Alzheimer’s disease, which included $7.9 million in funding to expand testing of insulin treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Four previous clinical trials have shown that intranasal insulin improves memory in patients with the disease, and other clinical trials have shown it also improves memory in healthy adults.
HealthPartners researchers Michael Rosenbloom, MD, Leah Hanson, PhD, and Maria Pyle are currently conducting a small clinical trial in Alzheimer’s patients using new form of insulin that they hope will be even more effective.