British scientists at the Toxicology Unit of the Medical Research Council, in Leicester, believe they have just a found a drug that could stop dementia and all other neurodegenerative brain diseases.
Although it is still much too soon to make big claims, experiments with lab mice seem to indicate that this drug can keep brain cells from dying, which means that it could have huge implications for the lives of millions of people around the world who suffer diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Degenerative diseases are related to one another on a sub-cellular level.
The researchers at the Toxicoloy Unit lab have tested more than 1,000 existing drugs on human cells and mice for about 4 years. An important milestone was reached in 2013, when the progress of prion disease was halted in mice, the first time this had ever ocurred in any animal in an experiment. The compound, however, proved toxic to the pancreas. This time around, the drugs seem to have no adverse effects in other organs.
It is important to note that the drug does not cure dementia, it merely stops brain cells from dying, that is, it stops the disease from causing further damage. When a brain cell is attacked by a virus, this leads to a build-up of viral proteins. To stop the virus from spreading, cells respond shutting down all protein production, not only the bad ones. This results in brain cells starving and eventually dying. This new drug keeps the production of proteins going, both the good ones and the bad ones. The cell stays alive even though it has a degenerative disease inside. It acts as a “pause” button.
Because the drugs used in the experiment are drugs already in use and prescribed for other conditions -like depression-, the approval process could be much quicker than if they were completely new drugs. Human trials could start in about a year and the first results could be two or three years away. The researchers know there would be no negative short-term side effects, but whether the drugs could have negative effects in the body if taken for 20 or 30 years is, of course, unknown. In any case, an exciting new discovery.
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