UW News

July 6, 2006

Hormone treatment may improve cognition in seniors

Dr. Michael V. Vitiello, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and colleagues report that growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH) significantly improves the cognitive function of healthy older men and women, particularly in tests of working memory, problem-solving, and psychomotor processing.

Their data also showed that GHRH treatment might be useful for individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings were recently published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

“Previously, we studied the effects of GHRH on cognitive function with very promising results,” Vitiello said. The hormone is the brain’s natural chemical signal for the pituitary gland to secrete growth hormone. Vitiello is the principal investigator of SMART, the Somatotrophics, Memory and Aging Research Trial.

“SMART is designed to greatly expand on our initial findings. We are studying healthy older adults again, but using more sophisticated cognitive tests. And, more importantly, we are studying patients with MCI,” Vitiello said.

MCI is a clinical condition where an individual has cognitive impairments exceeding those found in healthy age-matched adults but that are not severe enough for a diagnosis of dementia. It is associated with increased likelihood of continued decline to Alzheimer’s disease.

Vitiello’s interest in the condition is driven by the assumption that growth hormone treatment of older adults with mild impairment might prevent, or at least delay, progression to Alzheimer’s disease. “Delaying progression to (Alzheimer’s disease) would be of tremendous benefit to individual patients’ quality of life and lead to significant savings in health care costs,” said Vitiello.

SMART is a five-year, $2.6 million project funded by the National Institute of Aging. In all, 160 older men and women between the ages of 55 and 80 will be enrolled in this double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of GHRH.

More information about SMART is available at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Trials Web page www.clincaltrials.gov or at the SMART Study, 206-685-6607.