Researchers have found that cancer therapy may have Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention benefits, stopping the disease before symptoms occur.
Learn more about this study and how the methodology of the study may have a larger impact on future studies.
An international team of researchers from England, the Netherlands and Sweden has found that the cancer drug “bexarotene,” may target the first step of Alzheimer’s disease that leads to the death of brain cells. The study, recently published in the journal Science Advances, is the first study to report the potential of bexarotene as a “neurostatin” while previous studies have hailed its ability to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers tested the cancer drug on worms genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s. They noted that the drug was not effective after symptoms of the disease emerged but that when the drug was delivered before symptoms were present, the worms did not go on to develop Alzheimer’s. More specifically, the international research team found that bexarotene stops the first stage of the progression of the disease, called primary nucleation.
Senior author of the study, Professor Michele Vendruscolo from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry stated, “The body has a variety of natural defences to protect itself against neurodegeneration, but as we age, these defenses become progressively impaired and can get overwhelmed. By understanding how these natural defenses work, we might be able to support them by designing drugs that behave in similar ways.”
For this study, researchers employed a new approach using a test developed by two professors, Tuomas Knowles and Sara Linse. The approach allows researchers to determine what is happening at each stage of Alzheimer’s and how turning off one of those stages will affect the other stages.
Aside from the success of the anti-cancer drug on stopping the progression of Alzheimer’s, Vendruscolo acknowledges the significance of using this new approach to find a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s, saying:
“One of the real steps forward was to take a molecule that we thought could be a potential drug and work out exactly what it does. In this case, what it does is suppress primary nucleation, which is the aim for any neurostatin-type molecule. If you stop the process before aggregation has started, you can’t get proliferation.”
Using the new method allowed researchers to target the drug at the correct place in the progression of the disease. Co-author of the study, Professor Chris Dobson from the University of Cambridge, said, “Even if you have an effective molecule, if you target the wrong step in the process, you can actually make things worse by causing toxic protein assemblies to build up elsewhere. It’s like traffic control — if you close a road to try to reduce jams, you can actually make the situation worse if you put the block in the wrong place. It is not necessarily the case that all the molecules in earlier drug trials were ineffective, but it may be that in some cases the timing of the delivery was wrong.”
Researchers acknowledge that more studies need to be done to determine the effectiveness of the cancer drug in fighting Alzheimer’s, but are encouraged by their findings and their methodology.
Do you think that this cancer therapy could potentially revolutionize the way Alzheimer’s drugs are researched? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.