Researching the Benefits of Huperzia for Alzheimer's Disease
12-State Clinical Trial Announced
By Editorial Staff
Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center have announced plans to perform a multi-site study to investigate the healing effects of huperzia, a type of moss commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The purpose of the study, which will be conducted at 23 locations in 12 states and the District of Columbia, is to determine the effectiveness of an ingredient found in huperzia in improving cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer's disease.
At the center of the study is huperzine A, a chemical derived from huperzia that prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Because loss of acetylcholine function is a characteristic of several disorders of brain function, many scientists believe that huperzine A can be effective in stopping the spread of Alzheimer's disease. Other evidence has suggested huperzine A may protect brain tissue and improve memory in patients with age-related dementia.
In traditional Chinese medicine, huperzia has been used to treat not only Alzheimer's disease, but also conditions such as fever, blood loss and irregular menstruation. While dozens of Chinese studies have suggested huperzine A is both safe and effective, only a handful of controlled clinical trials assessing the herb's efficacy or toxicity have been published outside of China.
"This trial is essential to better understand the promise of huperzine A," said Dr. Paul Aisen, a professor of neurology at Georgetown and the trial's project director. "Based on studies in China, huperzine A may be more effective and better tolerated than currently prescribed drugs for Alzheimer's disease. In addition, laboratory studies suggest that huperzine may have unique effects that could slow down the progression of the disease."
The huperzine trial will enroll approximately 150 individuals age 55 or older, all diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, and for whom currently approved treatments for Alzheimer's have proved ineffective or intolerable. Upon enrollment, patients will be randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group will receive a supplement containing 200 micrograms of huperzine twice per day; the second will receive a supplement containing 400 micrograms of huperzine twice per day; and the third group will receive a placebo.
The first portion of the trial will last 16 weeks. To measure the effectiveness of huperzine in treating Alzheimer's disease, subjects will take a battery of tests that assess memory, behavior, and other aspects of cognitive function at the end of the 16-week trial period, with results of the placebo group measured against each of the huperzine groups. Thereafter, patients in all three groups will have the opportunity to receive active huperzine supplements for up to an additional 24 weeks, with another set of cognitive tests conducted at the end of the 24-week period.
The trial is funded in part through a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Based on its results, the scientists will then determine whether to seek funding for a larger, definitive study.
A complete listing of sites participating in the huperzine trial appears below. Additional details can be found at the Georgetown Memory Disorders Program's Web site (http://memory.georgetown.edu). Practitioners interested in having their patients participate in the trial are encouraged to contact the program by phone at (202) 784-6674, or by e-mail at
Sites Participating in the Georgetown Huperzine A Trial
Site Contact Person
City/States Contact Information
University of Alabama-Birmingham Jo Ann Parrish
Birmingham, Ala. (205) 934-6223
University of California, Davis Barbara Livingston-Henk
Sacramento, Calif. (916) 734-6750
University of California, Irvine Catherine McAdams-Ortiz
Irvine, Calif. (949) 824-8726
University of California, San Diego Karen Wetzel
La Jolla, Calif. (858) 622-5822
University of California, San Francisco Carrie Meer
San Francisco (415) 476-6880
University of Southern California Randall Sanabria
Los Angeles (323) 442-7600
Georgetown University Medical Center Carolyn Ward
Washington, D.C. (202) 784-6671
Howard University School of Medicine Kamilah Owens Adediran
Washington, D.C. (202) 865-7895
Baumel-Eisner Ft. Lauderdale Rachel Rodriguez
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (954) 720-1899
Premiere Research Institute Cora Kessel
West Palm Beach, Fla. (561) 845-0500, ext. 136
University of South Florida, Tampa Amanda Smith
Tampa, Fla. (813) 974-4355
Emory University Ann Snider
Atlanta, Ga. (404) 728-6541
Rush University Medical Center Julie Bach
Chicago, Ill. (312) 942-8264
University of North Carolina Wendy Robertson
Chapel Hill, N.C. (919) 966-6727
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Julie Coleman
Piscataway, N.J. (732) 235-4907
University of Nevada School of Medicine Gail Vranesh
Las Vegas (702) 671-5079
Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Edwin Canas
New York City (212) 241-1514
New York University Medical Center Suzanne DAgostino
New York City (212) 263-5708
University of Rochester Medical Center Colleen McCallum
Rochester, N.Y. (585) 760-6547
Oregon Health and Science University Dana Waichunas
Portland, Ore. (503) 494-9399
University of Pittsburgh Thomas Baumgartner
Pittsburgh (412) 692-2716
Medical University of South Carolina Don Bagwell
North Charleston, S.C. (843) 740-1592, ext. 29
University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center Kathleen Koch
Dallas, Texas (214) 648-7462
28-site trial studying Chinese herb as Alzheimer's treatment. Georgetown University Medical Center press release, April 26, 2006.