Study: Gene Test Needed Before Using Alzheimer's Drug 'Off-Label'

Aricept is often prescribed for mild mental impairment without actual approval

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TUESDAY, March 7, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- A drug used to treat Alzheimer's disease should not be prescribed to people with milder mental impairment without first giving them a genetic test, a new study urges.

The drug is donepezil (brand name: Aricept).

Donepezil could speed mental decline in someone with mild cognitive impairment who has a specific genetic variation, according to Sophie Sokolow, an associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing.

She and her colleagues found that patients with the K-variant of the butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) gene who took donepezil deteriorated faster than those who took a placebo.

Donepezil is approved in the United States to treat Alzheimer's disease but not mild cognitive impairment -- the stage between normal age-related decline and dementia. However, doctors often prescribe it "off-label" for patients with mild cognitive impairment, the study authors said.

For this study, the researchers examined data from a U.S. government-funded study published in 2005 that assessed donepezil as a possible treatment for mild cognitive impairment.

The findings reinforce the importance of physicians discussing the possible benefits and risks of donepezil with their patients, the researchers said in a university news release.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Funding was provide by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

More information

The Alzheimer's Association has more on mild cognitive impairment.

SOURCE: UCLA School of Nursing, news release, Feb. 24, 2017

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