Statistics show that approximately 80 percent of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) patients eventually develop Alzheimer's or dementia. However, scientists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee are increasingly hoping that various forms of nicotine therapy can actually slow the progression of this memory disorder.
MCI is diagnosed in 15 to 20 percent of people over the age of 65, whose symptoms of short-term forgetfulness and loss of long-term memory are often confused with the natural aging process. As Americans live longer due to new drug therapies and the advancing advances in medical technology in recent decades, it is expected that these numbers will only increase exponentially in the coming years.
The Vanderbilt study focuses on nicotine as a natural “herbal” therapy for MCI
Vanderbilt University scientists have been researching the possible positive aspects of nicotine therapy for patients with neurological disorders since the 1980s. One of the leading representatives in this area is Dr. Paul Newhouse from the University's Center for Cognitive Medicine. In the 1990s, Newhouse's research into intravenous nicotine methods was extremely promising and was eventually published in the National Institutes of Health (NCBI) of the United States National Library of Medicine.
In 2012, Newhouse updated its approach by conducting clinical studies with transdermal treatments – or nicotine-enriched plasters, oils, and tinctures. With the increasing popularity and ease of use of vapor technologies, medical experts specializing in MCI are increasingly optimistic about the effectiveness of vaporized nicotine as a possible therapeutic aid.
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The 2012 study consisted of a small control group of 70 patients living with MCI. After publication almost twenty years ago, the co-authors agreed that more research is needed before final results can be released. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is now one of 29 locations in multiple states participating in a national study to determine whether nicotine therapies can slow the progression of MCI, Alzheimer's, dementia, and other memory loss disorders. And Dr. Vanderbilt's Newhouse is the national director of the study.
Two-year nicotine study shows reversal potential
There are even some early indications that nicotine therapies may be able to permanently reverse some of the neurological damage caused by these cognitive conditions, although this is currently only a scientific hypothesis. In the 2012 study, scientists only provided 70 MCI patients with transdermal nicotine patches for six months. However, phase II of the project (first announced by Vanderbilt in winter 2018) involves over 300 MCI patients and will last a full two years. The end date is in December 2020, approximately six months away.
"People think (nicotine) is a potentially harmful substance, but it's a herbal medication, just like many other medications," said Dr. Newhouse at the start of Phase II. “I am convinced that we will find a way to improve early memory loss and really improve people's lives. In this study, we have an inexpensive, generally available, potential treatment. "
During the two-year study, researchers followed the same scientific protocols from each of the 29 sites. Various forms of testing take place regularly and include abnormal memory functions, mini-mental state examinations, clinical dementia symptoms, general cognitive and functional performance indexes, assessments of geriatric depression and other forms of neuropsychological analysis. Patients with severe neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are excluded from participating in phase II research, so the focus may continue to be on mild cognitive impairment or MCI.
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