Scientists from Cambridge University have discovered a number of drugs which could help with the ongoing fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers indicate that the drugs in question effectively act like statins for the brain.
Experiments were conducted on worms at the University of Cambridge, and researchers involved in the studies identified drugs which prevented the very first step towards brain cell death.
It is now hoped that it will be possible to correlate the drugs with specific stages of the Alzheimer’s condition.
Experts now consider it important for them to understand and establish precisely how the drugs could work safely in humans.
Statins are taken by people to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and the Cambridge research team says its work may have unearthed a potential “neurostatin” to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
This new discovery would potentially be able to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s, as opposed to treating it once it has already been identified.
Writing in Science Advances, Prof Michele Vendruscolo, senior study author from the University of Cambridge, said the research team wanted to find out more about the mechanics of every stage of the disease’s development.
“The body has a variety of natural defences to protect itself against neurodegeneration, but as we age, these defences become progressively impaired and can get overwhelmed. By understanding how these natural defences work, we might be able to support them by designing drugs that behave in similar ways.”
And commenting on the issue, Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, was extremely enthusiastic about the potential of this new medical breakthrough.
However, Sancho also warned that the researches were nowhere near the stage of instigating clinical trials, and must first labour for many hours in an attempt to understand how the drugs can be implemented safely within the human body.
“We will now need to see whether this new preventative approach could halt the earliest biological events in Alzheimer’s and keep damage at bay in further animal and human studies. This early research in worms suggests that bexarotene could act earlier in the process to interfere with amyloid build-up.”
Similar substances to those discovered by the Cambridge researchers have already been utilised in treating other conditions.
For example, bexarotene is utilised in the treatment of cancer, and was previously found to prevent the death of brain cells in worms.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, was cautiously optimistic about the finding, indicating that the notion of implementing it in humans on anything like a significant scale was still likely many years away.
Brown acknowledged that similar drugs have significant side-effects, and that considerable research would have to be undertaken before the new substances can be utilised safely.
“Bexarotene has many side-effects when used to treat lymphoma, such as skin complaints, headaches, and sickness, and we would also need to be sure that it’s safe for people with Alzheimer’s to take. We haven’t found any new drugs for dementia in over 10 years, and repurposing drugs that already work for other conditions could provide us with a shortcut to new dementia treatments.”