Scientists have potentially found a drug to stop neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's. In 2013, a U.K Medical Research Council team stopped brain cells dying in a animal for the first time, creating headline news around the world. However, the compound used was unsuitable for people as it caused organ damage.
However, now two drugs have been prepared which have been found to have the same protective effect on the brain and are already safely used in people. Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who was the lead scientists from the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester described the compound as “really exciting”.
Human trials are expected to take place on dementia patients soon and expects to know whether the drugs work within two or three years. The approach is focused on the neutral defence mechanisms built into brain cells. These cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus’s spread. Many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of faulty proteins that activate the same defences. When the brain cells shut down production for so long, they eventually starve themselves to death, therefore the process can destroy movement, memory or even kill, depending on the disease.
In the initial study, the researchers used a compound that prevented the defence mechanism kicking in. It halted the progress of prion disease in mice - which was the first time any neurodegenerative disease had been halted in any animal. The findings were described as a turning point for the field even though the compound was toxic to the pancreas.
Since 2013, the research group has tested more than 1000 ready made drugs on nematode worms, human cells in a dish and mice. The best known drug of the pair is trazodone, which is already taken by patients with depression. The other, DBM, is being tested in cancer patients. However, results from the clinical and human trials must be presented before the drugs can be utilised. Dr Doug Brown from the Alzheimer's Society said “We’re excited by the potential of these findings” and Dr David Dexter from the Parkinson’s UK said “This is a very robust and important study”.