Study suggests nicotine therapies slow disease progression in MCI patients

Statistics indicate that approximately 80 percent of patients living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) will eventually develop Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. However, scientists from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, are becoming increasingly hopeful that various forms of nicotine therapies may actually slow the progression of this memory disorder. 

Between 15-20 percent of people currently over the age of 65 are diagnosed with MCI whose symptoms of short-term forgetfulness and long-term memory loss are often confused with the natural aging process.  As Americans are now living longer due to new drug therapies and the ongoing advancements in medical technologies of recent decades, these numbers are only expected to climb exponentially in the years to come. 

Vanderbilt study focuses on nicotine as a natural ‘plant-derived’ therapy for MCI

Scientists from Vanderbilt University have been conducting research on the potential positive aspects of nicotine therapies for patients living from neurological disorders since the 1980s.  One of the leaders in this field is Dr. Paul Newhouse of the university’s Center for Cognitive Medicine.  In the 1990’s, Newhouse’s research surrounding intravenous nicotine methods showed tremendous promise and was eventually published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (NCBI). 

In 2012, Newhouse updated his approach by conducting clinical trials using transdermal treatments – or nicotine-enhanced patches, oils, and tinctures. With the rise in popularity and ease of use of vapor technologies, medical experts specializing in MCI are now growing more optimistic about the effectivity of vaped nicotine as a possible therapeutic aid. 


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The 2012 research consisted of a small control group of 70 patients living with MCI, and upon publication nearly twenty years ago, the co-authors agreed that more extensive research was needed before any definitive findings could be published.  The Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is now one of 29 sites across 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 Vanderbilt’s Dr. 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 only a scientific hypothesis at this point.  In the 2012 study, scientists provided the 70 MCI patients with transdermal nicotine patches for only six-months, but Phase II of the project (which was first announced by Vanderbilt in the winter of 2018) involves over 300 MCI subjects and will last for a full two-years.  That places the end date at December of 2020, about six-months away. 

“People think of [Nicotine] as a potentially noxious substance, but it’s a plant-derived medication just like a lot of other medications,” said Dr. Newhouse at the commencement of Phase II.  “I am convinced that we will find a way to help improve early memory loss and make a real difference in people’s lives. In this study, we have an inexpensive, widely available potential treatment.”

Throughout the two-year study, the researchers from each of the 29 sites are following the same scientific protocols.  Various forms of testing are occurring regularly and involve abnormal memory functions, mini-mental state examinations, clinical dementia symptomology, general cognitive and functional performance indexes, geriatric depression evaluations, and other forms of neuropsychological analysis. Patients with severe neurological disease like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer’s are excluded from participation in the Phase II research so that the focus can remain on mild cognitive impairment or MCI. 

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