Scientists at a prominent research facility say they have uncovered a new way of attacking Alzheimer’s disease.
The process, they say, may someday lead to the development of drugs that could prevent, and even reverse, the effects of the deadly brain disease.
The findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists were quick to point out the research is in its early stages, and the development of an effective drug could be years away.
“If this is successful, this would be a huge advancement,” Dr. Victor Bustos, senior research associate at the Fisher Center, told Healthline.
James A. Hendrix, Ph.D., the director of global science initiatives, medical and scientific relations, at the Alzheimer’s Association, also sees promise.
Hendrix told Healthline the research was an “interesting look” at a “different way of intervening” in Alzheimer’s disease progression.
“It introduces a new mechanism for attacking Alzheimer’s,” he said.
What researchers found
The Fisher Center scientists focused on a mutation that protects older adults from developing Alzheimer’s.
The researchers said they discovered that Gleevec, a cancer-fighting drug, and another compound, can mimic the effects of that protective mutation.
Bustos said researchers did discover that Gleevec did not stay in the brain that long after it entered, so the focus during the studies shifted to the other compound.
In addition, the scientists identified the cellular process responsible for the mutation’s protection effect.
All this, the scientists say, can act as a model for effective drugs to battle Alzheimer’s.
“This new finding opens the doors for new treatments that may actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease from developing, which would drastically decrease the number of people affected by the disease,” Paul Greengard, Ph.D., director of the Fisher Center, said in a statement.
Bustos said the drugs currently used to treat Alzheimer’s are only able to reduce symptoms and slow the disease.
“They don’t really attack the source of the problem,” he said.
Drugs using this newly discovered process would target the cause of Alzheimer’s.
Bustos said the drugs could be given to people when they first start developing signs of Alzheimer’s such as amyloid plaques or tau tangles.
The next steps
Bustos said scientists will next test compounds with different types of Alzheimer’s in animals.
They will also try to determine any toxicity or side effects.
From there, human clinical trials can be conducted.
Bustos and Hendrix both said there is a long road ahead for this research.
Hendrix did note that experimental treatments have been successful in curing Alzheimer’s in rats and mice for decades.
“You have to remember that animals aren’t humans,” he said. “Human biology is complicated.”
He noted this latest research can advance along with other treatments being studied such as immunotherapies and enzyme inhibitors.
Hendrix said the key will be funding for organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and the Fisher Center.
“We need to do good research and do good science,” he said.
Bustos agreed, noting there is slow, yet steady progress in this field.
“What I can say is today we know more than we did yesterday, and today we are closer to a cure than we were yesterday,” he said.