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Roskamp Institute scientists searching for Alzheimer's breakthrough

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Alzheimer's Awareness Month just wrapped up in June, but it's an everyday effort for Suncoast families affected by the disease and for the some of the best and brightest minds in science working to find new treatments.

Inside the lab at the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota could lie the next big breakthrough in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or one of the many other diseases studied by researchers.

Fiona Crawford, Ph.D., Roskamp's President and CEO, is a renowned pioneer in the world of Alzheimer's research, the main focus of the Institute.

"It's very complex," Crawford said. "Everything we are doing here working on the brain. Everything we find out just tells us that we have more to find out. It's very complicated."

It's been more than a decade since a new drug has been approved to treat Alzheimer's and dementia. But Crawford said there is a promising Phase III clinical trial about to start in Europe of a drug called Nilvadipine that was developed at the Roskamp Institute. It's a re-purposing of a hypertension medication that's been available outside the United States for many years.

"It blocks the production of a protein called amyloid, which gives rise to amyloid plaques, which are found in brains of Alzheimer's patients," Crawford said. "It blocks inflammation in the brain, it also blocks phosphorylation of a protein called tau."

Many are optimistic about new treatments on the horizon, including Suncoast resident Jane Smith. Her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about four years ago.

"It can be devastating; it's all in how you deal with it," Smith said. "My husband is still at the point where he knows he can't remember things and it will bother him. I can see him really thinking hard."

At Roskamp, Smith's husband has been treated by neurologist Andrew Keegan, M.D. and participated in two clinical trials.

"We're not looking for answers, but we're hopeful anything that we come up with along the way helps in the future. Maybe if it helps a little today, that will be amazing," Smith said.

"The challenge with Alzheimer's is the trials tend to be about a year and a half long for one patient to go through, and there are and 1,000 people in big trials," Keegan said.

And that, Keegan said, makes the trials quite expensive. Other than those who have a gene mutation that causes early-onset Alzheimer's, most don't know why they get the disease. But Keegan said high blood pressure, high cholesterol and living a sedentary lifestyle increase your risk.

"They talk about building a strong brain reserve, staying active, reading, being social, participating in sports and activities that are engaging your brain," Keegan said.

There are always clinical trials and research programs going on at the Roskamp Institute. That includes one that is studying the short and long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

For more information or to learn if you might be eligible to participate in a clinical trial, contact Jane Thompson at:

You can also visit the Roskamp Institute website: