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KU researcher tests different approach to fighting Alzheimer’s

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FAIRWAY, Kan. -- The exact cause of Alzheimer's Disease remains a mystery. The theory of Dr. Russell Swerdlow, a researcher at K.U.'s Alzheimer's Disease Center, is gaining traction. It's now being put to the test in humans.

Charlie Rascoll knows there are puzzles to solve with Alzheimer's, a disease he was diagnosed with four years ago in his early sixties. Rascoll has enrolled in studies at the center.

"It seems to be the right thing to do, yea, if we're going to win," he said.

And to win, researchers need to know what causes Alzheimer's. For several decades, the focus has been on amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. But that focus hasn't resulted in treatment breakthroughs.

"My feeling is that there is probably something upstream that causes the plaques to form and that causes the tangles to form," Dr. Swerdlow said.

He thinks it's essentially brain aging.

"And when you think about brain aging, that implicates the mitochondria, the power plants of the cells," he said.

The theory is that those little power plants in cells generate energy less efficiently as we age. Dr. Swerdlow's goal is to trick the brain into believing it's hungry so the mitochondria will produce more energy. That might slow or stop Alzheimer's.

In a small study underway at the research center, Rascoll and others are taking a capsule that the doctor thinks might do the trick. It's the supplement oxaloacetate.

"We're trying to figure out how much of oxaloacetate is needed to alter brain energy metabolism, and can we do it safely," Dr. Swerdlow said.

Rascoll said he's had no side effects from the supplement so far. He and his wife are glad he's part of research.

"It keeps me positive," he said.

He knows he could help solve the puzzle of Alzheimer's, helping himself and millions of others.

Participants are still needed for the study. Besides taking the supplement, participants go through testing that includes sophisticated brain scans. For more information on this or other Alzheimer's studies, call 913-588-0555 or go to KUAlzheimer.org.