Yale Lab Succeeds In Giving New Life To Almost-Extinct Natural Alzheimer's Treatment
Chemists at Yale University have made the first commercially viable synthesization of huperzine A. A natural enzyme inhibitor, huperzine A has been extracted from a Chinese moss, the Huperzia serrata plant, and it's been used to treat Alzheimer's disease in China.
You may recognize the name Huperzine A; small doses of the expensive ($1000 per per milligram) extract are sold in the U.S. as nutrition supplements to help retain memory. Scientists have been trying to synthesize the compound in the lab; but until now, those efforts were not very efficient. The process used at Yale is cost effective and practical. Its surprising yield of 40 percent sure beats the previously known highest yield, which was about 2 percent.
"Being able to synthesize large amounts of huperzine A in the laboratory is crucial because the plant itself, which has been used in Chinese folk medicine for centuries, takes decades to grow and is nearing extinction due to overharvesting," says Seth Herzon, the Yale chemist who led the research, which is described in Chemical Science.
Herzon believes that ultimately the chemists will get the cost of huperzine A down to 50 cents per milligram, and the Yale lab has partnered with an industrial firm to help it achieve that objective.
Huperzine A will be tested in clinical trials on various neurological disorders, In addition, the University has partnered with the U.S. Army to test the compound's ability to deflect the hazards of chemical agents used in warfare, another suspected benifit of the enzyme inhibitor.
Other Alzheimer's treatments based on enzyme inhibitors are currently prescribed in the U.S., but huperzine A binds better, is more easily absorbed by the body, and lasts longer in the body than other treatments, Herzon says.
"We believe huperzine A has the potential to treat a range of neurologic disorders more effectively than the current options available," Herzon says. "And we now have a route to huperzine A that rivals nature's pathway."
Note: American TV networks have been calling on medical experts to assess Pat Summitt's newly diagnosed early onset Alzheimer's disease. Pat Summitt, the fiery dynamo women's basketball coach of the Lady Vols of Tennessee, has decided to stay on as coach of the team she led for 38 years, although the TV medical gurus have been very cynical about this decision and, indeed, about any hope that Ms. Summitt may stablize through any combination of drugs or mental exercises.
Indeed, there are no FDA approved drugs currently available that do anything but slow the process of this most feared disease, but research has revealed that there are alternatives to these drugs that may prolong the onset as well as the process of the disease even longer than those currently approved. The Chinese appear to have done that with the use of huperzine A.
I am not a doctor, but I am a reader and a science writer, and I often read new studies, published in scientific journals throughout the world, that support hope that a natural or synthetic treatment will be available soon to reverse the disease.
Just a simple search here on this site of 'Alzheimer's,' will show you just some of the many positive studies that are in progress. Many of these research projects are cause for more hope and less cynicism, I believe.