Major Alzheimer’s breakthrough: Treatment linked to HIV medication

New research has shown that existing HIV medication could be used to treat patients with Alzheimer's because genes of both diseases work in similar ways. Source: Getty

Researchers have made a major breakthrough when it comes to understanding and treating Alzheimer’s disease, discovering that an existing HIV medication could be used to treat the cognitive condition.

A study by researchers at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in San Diego, published in Nature Journal, probed further into the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease and examined the genetic neurons in the brain that rearrange themselves over a person’s lifetime. 

Using new technology, researchers noticed that genes are “mixed and matched” in the brain over time and that one of the genes in this process is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. 

For their study researchers analysed brain samples of seven people with Alzheimer’s and six without. This showed them the genetic blueprint of people with Alzheimer’s and how it changes when the disease is developing.

Furthermore, researchers noted the shuffling mechanism is similar to the way the HIV virus spreads. Pharmaceutical companies have already developed and sold medication that stops this mechanism and researchers are now hopeful the same HIV medication could be used to prevent Alzheimer’s from getting worse in patients who have already developed the disease.

This is great news for those living with Alzheimer’s as new medications can take up to 10 years to be approved by the FDA and similar drug authorities. This time they won’t have to wait before beginning clinical trials as the HIV medication is already readily available. 

While confirmation of the findings is required, researchers believe even a low level of effectiveness would be more beneficial than medication currently available to Alzheimer’s patients. The medication wouldn’t be able to reverse damage already caused by the cognitive condition, but would slow its progress. 

More than 342,000 Australians currently live with dementia, with the condition impacting 44 million people worldwide. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and there currently isn’t any cure.

The latest research comes after a study published in early November found a new vaccine could potentially reduce the number of Alzheimer’s cases by half. Research published in the Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy Journal found special DNA coding in the vaccine could trigger an immune response which prevents the build up of two toxic proteins that kill brain cells and cause Alzheimer’s.

Unlike the new research published in the Nature Journal, this vaccine has only been tested on animals and isn’t yet available for humans. Still, the study conducted by UT Southwestern Medical Center on mice found a 40 per cent reduction in the beta-amyloid protein and a 50 per cent reduction in tau protein with no adverse immune response.

It is thought these two proteins are the cause of Alzheimer’s and that the ability to reduce the levels of them could have major therapeutic value.

What are your thoughts on the latest findings? Do you know someone who has been impacted by Alzheimer’s or dementia?

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