By From the Lowell Sun
By David Perry
LOWELL -- It is known around the offices at UMass Lowell as the SmartPill, a concoction of vitamins and nutriceuticals that has proven to stave off the degenerative effects of Alzheimer's disease.
Now in the final stages of licensing, it will be marketed as MemoryXL. It will not require a prescription and does not require FDA approval.
Today at UMass Lowell, biological-sciences professor Thomas Shea will receive a $240,000 check from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Alzheimer's Association to fund a three-year study to determine if the SmartPill can also delay the onset of Alzheimer's.
Over more than a decade of research, folks can come up with a lot of names. But thanks to Shea and a team of colleagues, this pill by any name is the first time anyone has developed a nonprescription, vitamin-based pill to delay the progression of Alzheimer's. Clinical trials showed it also improved memory and recall in adults without Alzheimer's.
And the pill, which includes, folate and vitamins E and B12, is adding evidence to the notion that diet counts. Perhaps more than anyone thought.
The findings of clinical trials rooted in the work of Shea and his fellow UMass Lowell researchers will be published in the December/January issue of the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
From the outset more than a decade ago, Shea, 56, said he and his fellow researchers were onto something, but "we never, ever knew it would go this well."
The first clinical trials began three years ago, and the pill has been tested on lab mice engineered to develop Alzheimer's, as well as healthy adults without dementia, adults with early onset Alzheimer's and those in late-stage Alzheimer's.
People in the early stages of Alzheimer's showed improvement, and normal adults showed improved memory and recall "by as much as 20 percent," said Shea. Even those in late stages of the disease "held steady for six months."
Not only does SmartPill work when taken at the first signs of memory problems, but it can be taken before for overall brain health.
As researchers continue to explore the benefits of vitamins, says Shea, it would be nearly impossible for the average person to ingest enough food with SmartPill's benefits.
Unlike pharmaceuticals used to treat Alzheimer's, "you can take our formulation before the onset of Alzheimer's," said Shea.
"Doing that can actually hurt you with pharmaceuticals," he added. "You have to wait for a very evident decline. And the drugs work for a couple of years, then wear out."
SmartPill's ingredients are all readily available in vitamin stores, said Shea, who has been at UMass Lowell for 15 years but has worked on Alzheimer's issues for more than a quarter-century.
The pill does not repair damage already done by Alzheimer's, "but you'd actually want to start with it early, not late. It's preventative, not restorative."
The pill is "in the final stage of licensing," and will be "out really, really soon," he said.
Shea's formulation "has proven to be at least effective as current drugs for Alzheimer's now on the market," said Gerald Flaherty, vice president of medical and scientific programs for the Massachusetts Alzheimer's Association.
FDA-approved Alzheimer's medications have "limited effectiveness," he said.
He called Shea's work "an interesting approach to brain health."
"We know that a healthy lifestyle does have a buffering effect on Alzheimer's," Flaherty added.
"We're all living longer," said Shea, "and we're all more subject to Alzheimer's. I believe we'll all see it if we live long enough."
UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan said Shea's research "combined scientific rigor with an eye on the end result." Not only has his work increased knowledge of Alzheimer's, "but he's doing even more to improve the brain functioning and quality of life for patients."