A ‘statin for the brain’ could prevent millions of cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
Cambridge University scientists have discovered drugs that could stop the cruel disease ever developing.
They say that, just as people at risk of heart attacks today are given statins to keep them healthy, in future, people could take these ‘neurostatins’ to stave off dementia.
Everyone over the age of 30 could be offered them to keep their brain healthy for as long as possible.
Researcher Professor Michele Vendruscolo said: ‘That would be the dream.
‘To find a compound, which is cheap and safe and therefore can be given early to everybody.’
Scientists have discovered drugs that could stop Alzheimer’s disease from ever developing. Pictured are CT scans of sufferers’ brains
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect some 850,000 Britons and cost the economy £26billion a year.
Existing drugs delay the progress of Alzheimer’s, but their failure to tackle the underlying cause in the brain means that they quickly wear off and the disease soon takes its devastating course.
The new research, detailed in the journal Science Advances, brings hope to millions around the world.
It centres on amyloid-beta, the sticky protein that clogs the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and kills off vital cells.
The Cambridge University scientists developed a way of studying the protein’s formation with greater accuracy than ever before.
They then searched the medical literature for a drug that interfered with the very first stage of the process.
When they tested this drug, bexarotene, in a test-tube, it stopped the clumps from forming.
WORLD FACES ‘ALZHEIMER’S EPIDEMIC’: EXPERT WARNS 106 MILLION PEOPLE WILL BE BATTLING THE CONDITION BY 2050
More than 100 million people across the world will be battling Alzheimer’s by 2050, experts have warned.
In the last 10 years, the number of adults living with the disease has jumped from almost 26 million to more than 36 million.
But, in the next 34 years, that number is set to soar – reaching 106 million.
The explosion in patients is down to an aging population – and the fact most sufferers are diagnosed after the age of 65, according to experts at the National Institutes of Health.
It will become a full-blown ‘public health crisis’, University of California Los Angeles experts warned.
Dr Ron Brookmeyer, a biostatistics professor at the UCLA School of Public Health, said: ‘This is a long illness.
‘Once you’re diagnosed, you might live with it for 10 or more years, and the intensity of care required will vary during that time.
‘From a public health point of view, it’s important to look at where people will be in different stages of the disease and the needs we will be facing as a society.’
Tests on worms were even more exciting.
The genetically modified worms doomed to develop Alzheimer’s as they got older.
But when bexarotene, which is used to treat cancer, was given at the right time and in the right dose, they never developed Alzheimer’s.
Professor Vendruscolo, who worked with Swedish and Dutch scientists on the project, said: ‘We found that when given early to worms bexarotene was preventing the disease.
‘In these worms, it was acting as a neurostatin.
‘This, in terms of an approach for Alzheimer’s disease, would be the equivalent of what statins do for heart conditions.
‘So you would take them well in advance of developing the condition to reduce your risk.’
Good as bexarotene was, Professor Vendruscolo has since found several that are even more powerful.
Much more research is needed before their Alzheimer’s prevention powers are tested on people but the professor is optimistic that it will one day be possible to stop the amyloid-beta protein from poisoning the brain.
If he does find a safe and effective neurostatin, it could be offered to all adults from their 30s, to prevent clumps, or aggregates, of amyloid beta from forming.
The professor said: ‘We have a very powerful natural defences in our bodies that prevent the formation of these aggregates.
‘We get Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases in old age because it is when our natural defences start to crumble.
‘Our idea is that we should supplement these natural defences by this chemical means.
‘The hope is to have for Alzheimer’s the same type of drug as statins for heart disease. That is the ambition.’
The new understanding of how the compound is formed will also aid the search for drugs that act later in the process and so treat or even cure those who already have the disease.
In future a ‘statin for the brain’ could prevent millions of cases of the condition, researchers said (file photo)
Professor Vendruscolo said: ‘The next target of our research is also to be able to treat victims of this dreadful disease.’
Dr Rosa Sancho, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘We know that the accumulation of amyloid is a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s and that drugs to halt this build-up could help protect nerve cells from damage and death.
‘Over the next 35 years, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to go from 40 million to 130 million, with 70 per cent of those in middle or low-income countries.
This would be the equivalent of what statins do for heart conditions. You would take them well in advance of developing the condition to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s
Professor Michele Vendruscolo, University of Cambridge
‘The only way of realistically stopping this dramatic rise is through preventive measures: treating ‘Alzheimer’s disease only after symptoms have already developed could overwhelm healthcare systems around the world.’
Others cautioned that previous attempts to use bexarotene to treat Alzheimer’s once it had already developed have not been successful.
Dr Doug Brown, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Previous studies looking at bexarotene, a cancer drug, to clear away amyloid plaques from the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, have not been successful in people.’
But he added: ‘We haven’t found any new drugs for dementia in over ten years, and repurposing drugs that already work for other conditions could provide us with a shortcut to new dementia treatments.’
And speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (MUST CREDIT) annual conference in Washingtion D.C, Alzheimer’s expert Professor Kenneth Langa, described the research as ‘the first step in a million-mile journey’.