A new study has claimed drugs used to treat cancer and depression could also help slow down the effects of dementia and other Neurodegenerative diseases. If they are proven to work, experts say it is a "very exciting first step in treating these disorders".
Trazodone was shown to reduce brain shrinkage in early tests – and as it has already been proven safe for humans, it could be on the market in two years. Research found the drug prevented brain damage in mice suffering from dementia, but its effectiveness in humans has yet to be shown. An anti-cancer drug called dibenzoylmethane was also found to help reduce brain shrinkage in mice.
Both drugs block a natural defence mechanism in cells which is overactive in the brains of patients with a range of degenerative conditions. The drug has already been used to treat people suffering late-stage dementia – but it could be prescribed to patients at an early stage of the neurological disorder.
Trazodone was discovered in the Sixties, but is rarely used for depression now more modern drugs are available. Experts hope it will be the first “disease modifying therapy” to tackle the causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s rather than mask the symptoms.
Professor Giovanna Mallucci, of the Medical Research Council and the University of Cambridge, said: “We know that trazodone is safe to use in humans so a clinical trial is now possible to test whether the protective effects of the drug we see on brain cells in mice with neurodegeneration also applies to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
“We could know in two to three years whether this approach can slow down disease progression, which would be a very exciting first step in treating these disorders.”
Neurodegenerative diseases affect more than a million people in the UK, including 850,000 with a form of dementia. Accordingly, these new findings are incredibly important in the fight to identify treatment for Neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr David Dexter, from Parkinson's UK, said: "This is a very robust and important study.
"If these studies were replicated in human clinical trials, both trazodone and DBM could represent a major step forward."
Dr Doug Brown, from the Alzheimer's Society, said: "We're excited by the potential of these findings, from this well conducted and robust study.
"As one of the drugs is already available as a treatment for depression, the time taken to get from the lab to the pharmacy could be dramatically reduced."
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