New Alzheimer's drug brings surprising benefits

The race is on to find an effective drug therapy to treat, prevent or even cure Alzheimer’s disease, with researchers looking into many different areas and pursuing different theories.

While many researchers are focused on the plaques that build up on the brain and cause dementia, America’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies has taken a different tack and is working on an experimental drug that targets Alzheimer’s major risk factor – old age.

And while the drug, code named J147, appears to be very effective – halting and even reversing the pathological and cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s in mice – researchers were thrilled by other, surprise side effects.

When mice were treated with J147, they had better memory and cognition, healthier blood vessels in the brain and other improved physiological features, as detailed November 12, 2015 in the journal Aging.

“Initially, the impetus was to test this drug in a novel animal model that was more similar to 99 percent of Alzheimer’s cases,” says Antonio Currais, the lead author and a member of Professor David Schubert’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk. “We did not predict we’d see this sort of anti-aging effect, but J147 made old mice look like they were young, based upon a number of physiological parameters.

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“While most drugs developed in the past 20 years target the amyloid plaque deposits in the brain (which are a hallmark of the disease), none have proven effective in the clinic,” says Schubert, senior author of the study.

In this latest work, the researchers used three groups of rapidly ageing mice:  one set that was young, one that was old and one that was old but fed J147 as they aged.

The old mice that received J147 performed better on memory and other tests for cognition and also displayed more robust motor movements. The mice treated with J147 also had fewer pathological signs of Alzheimer’s in their brains.

Another notable effect was that J147 prevented the leakage of blood from the microvessels in the brains of old mice. “Damaged blood vessels are a common feature of ageing in general, and in Alzheimer’s, it is frequently much worse,” say the researchers.

“If proven safe and effective for Alzheimer’s, the apparent anti-ageing effect of J147 would be a welcome benefit,” said Schubert. The team aims to begin human trials next year.

Are you hopeful we’ll soon see a treatment that effectively combats Alzheimer’s?