Researchers in the USA has presented startling data which demonstrated that treatment with Amgen’s anti-inflammatory Enbrel reversed some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in a patient in a matter of minutes.

A study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation and carried out by researchers at the University of California, featured the case of an Alzheimer’s patient, an 81-year-old doctor. It showed that within 10 minutes of being injected in the spine with the rheumatology and psoriasis treatment Enbrel (etanercept), which is also marketed by Wyeth, the doctor could remember facts such as the year, day of the week and the state he lived in. Before the injection, he could not recall this information and after the treatment, he was “noticeably calmer, less frustrated and more attentive,'' the authors of the study say.

The authors of the study, Edward Tobinick and Hyman Gross, said that the efficacy of Enbrel delivered by perispinal administration for Alzheimer's disease over a period of six months has been previously reported in a pilot study, but this report “details rapid cognitive improvement, beginning within minutes”.

In an accompanying article, journal editor Sue Griffin, from the University of Arkansas, said the study was an exciting breakthrough, which provided a greater understanding of the disease. “It is unprecedented that we can see cognitive and behavioural improvement in a patient with established dementia within minutes of therapeutic intervention,” she claimed.

Dr Griffin added that “even though this report predominantly discusses a single patient, it is of significant scientific interest because of the potential insight it may give into the processes involved in the brain dysfunction of Alzheimer’s.”

Prof Tobinick noted that Enbrel and other tumour necrosis factor-alpha treatments may interrupt the inflammation that produces beta amyloid, which causes Alzheimer's characteristic tangles in the brain. The report noted that these drugs “are worthy of further investigation, and may lead to earlier therapeutic intervention which may have the potential to favourably affect the natural history of Alzheimer's disease''.