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26 January 2006 PR 06/09

‘Tailored hormone therapy may be successful in treating memory problems in the elderly’ says Loughborough University Professor

A Loughborough University Professor and world expert in hormone treatment for memory problems has been invited to speak at several prestigious international conferences.

Professor Eef Hogervorst from the University’s Department of Human Sciences has spent years researching the effectiveness of sex hormones in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

At the fifth World Congress on the Aging Male, taking place in Salzburg in February,
Professor Hogervorst will explain that hormone treatment (HT) in the elderly should be tailored as there may be optimal levels of hormones to exert protective effects on the brain.

In the UK there are more than half a million people with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, and with an aging population it is a figure that is on the increase. Because of this there is an urgent need to find a way of preventing and treating AD.

In the 1980s animal studies suggested that hormones, such as oestrogen and testosterone, could protect the ageing brain from developing the disease. The initial enthusiasm for the potential of oestrogen based HT was further fuelled by several small clinical and large observational studies in the mid nineties which reported that HT users have less risk for dementia and better cognitive functions than non-users.

But people’s hopes were dashed when the results of the largest treatment study to date to investigate HT, the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), concluded that HT increased the risk for dementia, stroke and breast cancer. The findings from the WHIMS study, which involved more than 4,000 females over 65 years of age, resulted in many women stopping oestrogen-based HT. Some have now turned to testosterone treatment for both men and women as an alternative. Others have ruled out the possibility that hormones could have any positive effect on the brain.

In her latest research Professor Hogervorst has tried to explain the discrepancy between the initial positive findings and the disappointing recent results. The work, which was funded by Research into Ageing/Help the Aged and the Alzheimer’s Association, involved reviews and meta-analyses of several studies carried out on the effectiveness of sex hormones in the treatment and prevention of AD. It is because of this research that Professor Hogervorst has been invited to speak at the world congress.

Speaking about the review Professor Hogervorst said: “It is currently believed by most investigators in the field that treatment with oestrogens for women is only successful in those women who are middle-aged. After examining various studies on HT therapy, I found that the regimen of continuous oestrogen treatment actually has negative effects in the long-term on younger, middle-aged as well as in older women over 65 years of age and those with dementia. In all groups we see a reversal of the initial two to three month positive effects of hormones on the brain.

“However, successful treatment may be dose dependent and a high dose given continuously seems to ultimately have negative effects. Animal studies suggest that intermittent treatment with oestrogens, much like the natural fluctuations in hormone levels in the body, does prolong the positive effects of hormones on the brain. It may be the case that a different treatment regimen will be successful in treating memory problems in the elderly. Testosterone treatment studies for men suggest that the optimal dosage of testosterone depends on the age of the men, where middle-aged men seemed to profit most from treatment. As results of long term treatment trials are not available yet, we don’t know whether we will see the same effects as those after long-term oestrogen treatment.

“More research needs to be done on the impact of dosage, treatment regimen and the length of time HT is given. I am very pleased that I will be able to discuss these findings with delegates from across the world at the conference in February.”

Professor Hogervorst has also been invited to speak at the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual meeting in Madrid later this year. She is now investigating the role of nutrition and exercise, which can also improve hormone profiles and as such may help protect the ageing brain.

ENDS

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Notes to editors

Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place it in the top flight of UK universities; the National Student Survey ranked Loughborough equal first among full-time students; and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough’s income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development; and for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping to develop social policy-related programmes.

In 2006 Loughborough celebrates the 40th anniversary of its University Charter, awarded on 19 April 1966 in recognition of the excellence achieved by Loughborough College of Advanced Technology and its predecessor Colleges. Loughborough University of Technology was renamed Loughborough University in 1996.

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