Clinical Trial to Explore Link Between Alzheimer's Disease and Herpes Virus

Antiviral herpes drug may be able to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

A new clinical trial has been launched to determine whether drugs used to treat the herpes virus could also treat Alzheimer’s disease. This is the first clinical study exploring this potential new use for an antiviral herpes drug.

The team of researchers from Umeå University in Sweden previously discovered a link between herpes virus infections and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

"Our results clearly show that there is a link between infections of herpes simplex virus and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease,” said lead researcher of the study Hugo Lövheim, MD, PhD in a previous press release. “This also means that we have new opportunities to develop treatment forms to stop the disease.”

The findings from this study suggest that elderly patients with a weakened immune system due to a herpes virus infection, could experience the virus traveling to the brain, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease. Since a majority of the population carries the herpes simplex virus 1, these findings could offer patients with Alzheimer’s disease a treatment to slow disease progression.

In the new study, the research team will recruit 36 patients with Alzheimer’s disease. During the 4-week study period, patients will receive treatment with valaciklovir, which is a drug that targets the herpes virus.

Valaciklovir is an antiviral that can treat herpes virus infections, such as shingles, cold sores, genital herpes, and chickenpox. While it does not cure the virus, it may prevent symptoms such as sores and blisters.

The investigators will be using several markers to determine the effects of the drug on fundamental Alzheimer’s disease processes. Brain imaging and a tracer substance that accumulates in cells with a herpes virus infection could be used to detect active herpes infections in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the university.

The VALZ-PILOT clinical trial has received approval from the Medical Products Agency Sweden and the Regional Ethical Review Board at the university. The research team began recruitment for the study in late-2016.

"I'm very excited about this study. In earlier population-based studies, we have seen that herpes virus infection increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease,” said lead researcher of the study Hugo Lövheim, MD, PhD. “It is very interesting to see if we can influence the neurodegenerative processes of Alzheimer's disease by using a well-established treatment of herpes.”