WHITEFISH, MT / April 3, 2014 Concussions are common in recreational and professional sports with an estimated 1.6 million sustained concussion-related injuries per year in the U.S. alone. Since concussions aren’t detectable using X-rays or CT scans, they often go undiagnosed and attempts to prevent them have been difficult. These concussions can lead to far more serious problems like chronic traumatic encephalopathy ("CTE") – a progressive degenerative disease that can only be diagnosed postmortem.
CTE has been implicated in a rising number of sports-related suicides and health issues. In 2013, the National Football League ("NFL") reached a tentative $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its retired players, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams, and underwrite research. The move came after more than 4,500 former athletes complained of suffering from dementia, depression, or Alzheimer’s disease which are conditions often associated with CTE.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how one company aims to crack open the brain’s black box, diagnose, and potentially treat neurodegenerative diseases like CTE (along with a number of other brain conditions) with simple and affordable blood tests.
What’s Happening in the Brain?
Diseases of the brain are notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. Alzheimer’s disease is perhaps the best example of these failures. In 2013, Baxter International Inc.’s (BAX) Gammagard joined a growing number of treatments – such as Johnson & Johnson Inc.’s (JNJ) bapineuzumab and Pfizer Inc.’s (NYSE:PFE) Dimebon – that failed Phase III clinical trials despite early optimism. These failures resulted from a lack of understanding of what is really happening in the brain.
On March 5, 2014, Aethlon Medical Inc. (AEMD) announced that its researchers (at the company’s subsidiary Exosome Sciences, Inc.) had isolated brain-derived exosomes. By using them as a "liquid biopsy", the company identified exosomes carrying brain-specific biomarkers associated with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, CTE, and Traumatic Brain Injury ("TBI"). For instance, exosomes transported across the blood-brain barrier can carry beta-amyloid or tau protein into peripheral circulation, which are biomarkers for Alzheimer’s and CTE.
Exosomes are cell-derived vesicles, present in biological fluids, which facilitate intracellular communication. Since they contain biologically active proteins and regulatory RNAs, they create a microenvironment for the progression of disease and analyzing them could provide critical information for identifying and monitoring a broad array of acute and chronic conditions. The problem was always differentiating where the exosomes came from in the first place.
Aethlon’s discovery means that scientists may soon be able to "see" what’s happening within the brain using blood-based liquid biopsies. In the case of the professional athlete who has suffered from multiple concussions, there is now the possibility that a blood test could identify the presence of tau-related exosomes that could identify the onset of CTE and potentially monitor disease progression. Presently, CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem through an autopsy.
Tip of the Iceberg in Terms of Potential
On March 14, 2014, Aethlon Medical also disclosed that it had isolated brain-derived exosomes released into the bloodstream from aggressive brain tumors. The team identified, quantified, and characterized circulating Glioblastoma multiforme ("GBM") exosomes. The move could eventually help oncologists better diagnose the aggressive cancer early and aid in its treatment. In addition, the high recurrence rate of these cancers means that repeat diagnosis is just as important.
It turns out that cancer-related exosomes also play a significant role in suppressing the immune system as well as in promoting angiogenesis, which allows tumors to create their own blood supply for survival. In this regard, Aethlon is targeting the elimination of tumor-secreted exosomes from circulation with their therapeutic candidate, known as the Hemopurifier(R).
Click here to watch Dr. Douglas Taylor, Chief Scientific Officer of Aethlon Medical subsidiary Exosome Sciences and a pioneer in exosome research, discuss recent esoxome/brain discoveries. https://vimeo.com/90227083
Since exosomes are present in biological fluids, they could be used to diagnose and treat disease conditions beyond brain cancers and neurodegenerative disorders. Aethlon Medical is already working on tests for other forms of cancer including ovarian, colorectal and melanoma. Management hopes that the removal of exosomes will reverse immune suppression, thereby allowing patients to respond better to standard-of-care therapies.
Potential Investment Opportunity
Aethlon Medical Inc. (AEMD) trades with a market capitalization of just $40.2 million. Based on recent discoveries, investors may want to take a closer look at the company given its ability to isolate brain-derived exosomes. That ability could pave the way to both diagnostics and therapeutics designed to treat diseases that are otherwise nearly impossible to diagnose and/or treat, like CTE and Alzheimer’s disease. Over the past 52 weeks, the stock has already risen more than 75% as investors may be catching on to its potential, but as with its exosome technology, that could be just the beginning.
For more information, see the following resources:
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SOURCE: TDM Financial