New drug could stop brain cell death in Alzheimer’s patients

A new UK study published in the journal Nature reports scientists have found a drug that prevents brain cells from dying in mice with prion disease (a type of rare neuro-degenerative disease found in animals and humans). Their hope is that this drug could also prevent brain cells from dying in other brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

At the root of many of these neuro-degenerative diseases are misfolded proteins — that is, the build-up of proteins that are not grouped together correctly. (A unique set of misfolded proteins is responsible for each specific disease.) When the level of misfolded proteins increase in the brain, the brain tries to cope by shutting down the production of all protein — a similar reaction to how the body fights off viruses. However, neurons need protein for healthy functioning.

The solution? The research team at the Medical Research Council laboratory in Leicester discovered the drug in question stopped the shut down and the mice lived longer. Stop the shut down and you stop the death of neurons.

“The novelty here is we’re just targeting the protein shut-down, we’re ignoring the prion protein and that’s what makes it potentially relevant across the board,” the study director, professor Giovanna Mallucci, told BBC News.

The researchers’ theory is that because preventing this shut down protects the brain in prion disease, the same strategy could work for all diseases involving misfolded proteins.

“What it gives you is an appealing concept that one pathway and therefore one treatment could have benefits across a range of disorders. But the idea is in its early stages. We would really need to confirm this concept in other diseases,” Giovanna continued.

Of course, this research is still in its very early stages. Further investigation will need to examine the drug’s effectiveness against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s before the medical community can make any conclusions. It could be a very long time before we see this research progress to human trials.

For now, the science community considers this finding a breakthrough discovery.

Another new drug offers hope

This news comes shortly after the news of a cancer drug reversing symptoms of Alzheimer’s in mice, another crucial development in the treatment of brain diseases.


In that study, researchers in Cleveland gave mice a dose of bexarotene — a drug used to treat skin cancer — and found significant memory improvement after just three days. In addition, more than 50 per cent of the amyloid plaque (which is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s) had been removed from the brain, and experts found a 75 per cent overall improvement in plaque levels.

Alzheimer’s disease currently affects an estimated 500,000 Canadians and 5.4 million Americans — who are among the approximately 18 million people worldwide suffering from this disease. With these numbers expecting to nearly double within a generation, a cure is desperately needed.

Sources: Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, BBC, Nature, U.S Alzheimer’s Association, Reuters, World Health Organization

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