Georgetown University Medical Center Memory Disorders Program Director Scott Turner worked as the principal investigator in the largest ever nationwide clinical trial of an Alzheimer’s disease drug called Resveratrol.
Turner’s research found that a biomarker involved in the progression of the disease stabilized when patients received a purified form of resveratrol, a compound found in high levels in red wine, red grapes, red wine juice, chocolate and tomatoes.
GUMC Executive Dean Edward Healton said Turner’s leadership helped make the trial a success.
“Dr. Turner conceived and designed this clinical trial,” Healton said. “To see it come to fruition with a promising path forward speaks to the leadership he brings to Georgetown. The Memory Disorders Program Dr. Turner directs is one of the most robust clinical trials programs in the Washington area and one of the largest in the country.”
In the United States, five million people currently have Alzheimer’s disease. According to Turner, this number is expected to double by 2050 due to increased life expectancy and population growth.
The study, which ran from 2012 to 2014, included 119 participants and 26 medical centers across the country.
Half of the participants took a placebo capsule that looked identical to the original resveratrol drug, while the other half took the drug itself. Additionally, the study was double blind, meaning neither patients nor clinical staff were aware of who was receiving the resveratrol capsules and who was receiving the placebo capsules.
For one year, participants regularly took the oral capsules. The dose increased every three months, and by the end, individuals were taking one gram of resveratrol twice daily — a dose equivalent to the amount of the compound found in 1,000 bottles of red wine.
The trial results demonstrated that a protein called amyloid-beta40 was stabilized in individuals who took resveratrol. Normally, these proteins would be depleted due to dementia. In addition, research found that resveratrol penetrated the blood-brain barrier.
Turner commented on the results of the trial and highlighted patient reaction to the high doses of resveratrol.
“We proved that high doses of resveratrol were safe and well-tolerated in older individuals with Alzheimer’s disease,” Turner said. “The major side effect was weight loss of about two pounds over 12 months in the resveratrol-treated group.”
However, Turner also noted that definite conclusions about resveratrol intake and its relationship to delaying dementia cannot be drawn solely from the study.
“We cannot conclude from this study that resveratrol is beneficial — a larger Phase 3 trial will address that question,” Turner said. “We are not recommending resveratrol supplements or consuming more than one glass of red wine daily. However, several studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet may delay the onset of dementia.”
John Bozza, one of the patients in the study, was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and then mild Alzheimer’s a year later. He and his wife Diana Bozza decided to participate in the study.
“I definitely want the medical community to find a cure,” Bozza said in a GUMC press release. “And of course I thought there’s always a chance that John could have been helped, and who knows, maybe he was.”
Turner said the study is a step toward discovering new and more effective treatments of Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have many studies in progress testing new treatments for Alzheimer’s,” Turner said. “Most of these are focused directly on blocking amyloid production or promoting its clearance. Finding more effective treatments is critical when you consider the size of our aging baby boomer population.”