By From the Lowell Sun
By Bridget Scrimenti
LOWELL -- Biological researcher Thomas Shea has heard first-hand how his supplement has staved off the degenerative effects of Alzheimer's disease.
"I've had people come up to me at meetings and say 'thank you for giving me my wife back'," Shea said. "'We can talk again.'"
A progressive and fatal brain disease, Alzheimer's destroys brain cells, and is the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the National Alzheimer's Organization.
But thanks to Shea and other UMass Lowell researchers, a supplement of vitamins and nutriceuticals they invented, called Memory XL, is clinically proven to delay the progression of Alzheimer's, while improving memory in adults without the disease.
For the past three months, Memory XL has been available over-the-counter at independent drugstores and online. It costs about $60 per bottle, which comes with 60 pills or a one-month supply.
"To see something turn into a product that can help people, and to hear back from them that their family members are doing better is a reward beyond comprehension," Shea said.
Each white pill contains folic acid, vitamins B12 and E, and three nutritional supplements, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), and Aceytl-L-carnitine. (ACLR).
SAMe boosts neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate, while NAC is a building block for antioxidants, Shea said. Acetyl-L-carnitine provides energy to brain cells, Shea said.
While all of these vitamins and natural compounds can be found over the counter at drugstores and vitamin stores, it's the specialized proprietary blend in Memory XL, that enables the vitamins and supplements to be highly effective.
"You can assemble the right ingredients, but it's how we've put it together that make it work," Shea said.
Memory XL is the first clinically established over-the-counter medication for Alzheimer's. Because Memory XL uses all natural components, it can be sold over-the-counter without FDA approval.
Shea, a cell biologist, is a former Harvard Medical School researcher, who came to UMass Lowell 15 years ago.
It was at UMass Lowell that Shea collaborated with fellow researchers Bob Nicolosi and Gene Rogers to test vitamin combinations on mice that were genetically engineered to have memory problems.
More than three years ago, clinical trials tested the pill in people with early stages of Alzheimer's, finding that it not only improved their memory, but also lessened irritability and depression, both common symptoms associated with the disease.
In normal adults, Memory XL improved memory as much as 20 percent.
Memory XL was also tested in people with late stages of Alzheimer's. Although late-stage patients did not improve, the pill prevented their symptoms from getting worse.
Now, Memory XL is undergoing another round of clinical studies to see if it can delay the onset of Alzheimer's in patients with mild cognitive impairment.
The three-year study, is funded by the National Alzheimer's Association, while Shea and his team are collaborating with researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Maryland.
About 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, which progressively destroys brain cells and can eventually lead to death, according to the National Alzheimer's Association.
While good nutrition is pivotal in preventing Alzheimer's, exercise and intellectual and social activities are also critical preventative measures.
Gerald Flaherty, vice president of medical and scientific programs for the Massachusetts Alzheimer's Association, said Memory XL was proven to be at least as effective as Aricept, a current FDA approved drug for Alzheimer's.
Besides the benefit of improving cognitive function, Flaherty hopes it will promote public awareness about Alzheimer's prevention.
"We hope the availability of a pill like this encourages primary-care physicians to address memory issues in their patients who they might otherwise not screen or diagnose for a serious memory problem," Flaherty said.
Flaherty said in coming years there will be an influx of patients with Alzheimer's, predicted to overwhelm health-care systems and bankrupt Medicare.
Shea, 57, who lost his aunt to Alzheimer's when he was 20, said with people living longer, everyone will eventually be at risk for Alzheimer's.
"It's likely if we all live long enough we'll all see Alzheimer's," Shea said. "If I can push it back 10 years, maybe I'll never see it in my lifetime."
Memory XL is currently sold at Pawtucketville Pharmacy in Lowell, Letourneau Pharmacy in Andover, and online at www.memxl.com.
For more information on Alzheimer's, contact the National Alzheimer's Association Helpline at (800) 272-3900.