Scientists have found that two ‘wonder drugs’ may help stop the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
The two drugs have the ability to stop brain cells dying – and, amazingly, are already safely used by humans to treat other ailments, according to findings published in the journal, Brain.
Prof Giovanna Mallucci, from the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester and the University of Cambridge believes an anti-depressant drug called trazodone and DBM (a compound being trialled as an anti-cancer drug) could be re-purposed to stop the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
She dubbed the latest research development – which has been ongoing for years – ‘really exciting’.
Since 2013, when a UK Medical Research Council team stopped animal brain cells dying with a drug unsuitable for human consumption, researchers have been endeavouring to find a safe alternative.
The two drugs have been found effective in preventing the emergence of signs of brain cell damage in prion-diseased mice test subjects, and restoring memory in mice models with frontotemporal dementia.
Prof Giovanna Mallucci hopes to take them to human trials, telling the MRC:
We know that trazodone is safe to use in humans, so a clinical trial is now possible to test whether the protective effects of the drug we see on brain cells in mice with neurodegeneration also applies to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
We could know in 2-3 years whether this approach can slow down disease progression, which would be a very exciting first step in treating these disorders.
Interestingly, Trazodone has been used to treat the symptoms of patients in later stages of dementia, so we know it is safe for this group.
We now need to find out whether giving the drug to patients at an early stage could help arrest or slow down the disease through its effects on this pathway. It’s time for clinical trials to see if there’s similar effects in people and put our money where our mouth is.
We’re very unlikely to cure them completely, but if you arrest the progression you change Alzheimer’s disease into something completely different so it becomes liveable with.
But, although trazodone is a current medication, she added, ‘As a professional, a doctor and a scientists, I must advise people to wait for the results.’
Dr Doug Brown, from the Alzheimer’s Society, told the BBC:
We’re excited by the potential of these findings, from this well conducted and robust study.
As one of the drugs is already available as a treatment for depression, the time taken to get from the lab to the pharmacy could be dramatically reduced.
Professor Giovanna Mallucci chats to us about the work behind today's exciting drug discovery announcement https://t.co/HsC92YOBoZ
— Alzheimer's Society (@alzheimerssoc) April 20, 2017
Dr David Dexter of Parkinson’s UK also expressed hope, saying, ‘This is a very robust and important study.’
He added, ‘If these studies were replicated in human clinical trials, both trazodone and DBM could represent a major step forward.’