Mention Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and prion disease and many experts will tell you that these are health conditions that have kept researchers scratching their heads in search of effective treatment without success.
About five years ago, there was excitement when a test drug proved that it could reverse brain cells degeneration in rats with prion disease.
Prion disease is characterized by many misfolded proteins and the disease affects humans in nearly the same way. While the drug proved helpful in the rats, it turned out to be toxic to humans with cases of toxicity to the pancreas being reported. Needless to say the clinical trials of the drug were stopped.
There is renewed excitement after scientists in the UK announced that they have found drugs that can prevent or arrest Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease among other neurodegenerative disorders such as prion disease and the dreaded ‘mad cow disease’ (CJD)
The news about this were published in the respected Brain – A Journal of Neurology of April 19 2017 (online version)
These drugs are not entirely new. They have been in use for the management of other medical conditions and the research results suggest that they could be repurposed to fight the brain disorders. The first drug trazodone hydrochloride has been in use as an antidepressant and anxiolytic medication. The other dibenzoylmethane (DBM) has been mainly been intended for use in cancer (prostate and bowel) treatment.
A recent report by the PubMed Health noted that the two drugs were effective in:
- Memory restoration
- Reducing neurodegeneration signs and symptoms. This includes brain shrinkage which is a typical feature in these conditions.
- Reduced associated paralysis
- Not showing toxicity effects in the doses used
According to this source, the trial of trazodone on human beings could start almost immediately because issues about its safety have already been settled in its use for the emotional disorders mentioned above. Probably the focus would now be on the effective and safe doses of the medication for the purpose of the neurodegenerative disorders.
Although there is optimism about trazodone, marketing it for neurodegenerative disorders might take a while. It will involve the many stages it needs to go through in human clinical trials before it is approved for that purpose. The fact that such clinical trials have not even began suggests that it take time before it hits the market. The reality is that, such trials may not even go beyond the initial steps depending on initial findings.
For dibenzoylmethane (DBM), the journey to the market as a drug for neurodegenerative disorder is much longer and uncertain since it is still under review as a cancer drug.
One of the leading authors of the study, Professor Giovanna Malluci urged that clinical trials should commence to find out whether the same results would be achieved on human trials. She however, cautioned the public and other stakeholders against rushing to use the drugs until the studies offer reliable findings (on human subjects)
Why are scientists and the medical fraternity excited about this?
Neurodegeneration disorders present a challenging medical and social situation. Consider these:
- The disorders affect both aspects of the central nervous system – the brain and the spinal cord.
- Neural tissue in these areas is gradually lost
- The disorders insidiously destroys decision making ability and coordination
- The damaged nervous tissue and cells cannot be regenerated easily and so the damage is usually irreversible.
Many experts agree that the study was well-conducted and inspires hope. Dr. Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK said that the results of the research had potential and the time between the release of the findings and the drug’s availability in pharmacies can be greatly reduced (for trazodone).
Dr. David Dexter (Parkinson’s UK) said that a replication of the findings in human beings would be a ‘major step forward’ in the treatment of the degenerative neurological disorders.
According to Professor Malluci, efforts should now be focused on finding out whether using trazodone can help in arresting or slowing down the progression of the brain and spinal cord cells disorders. Either of these outcomes would be a major step in making the disorders easier to live with.
Mark Halliday, Helois Radford, Karlijn A. M. Zents, Collin Molloy, Julie A. Moreno, Nicholas C. Verity, Ewan Smith, Catharine A. Ortori, David A. Barrett, Martin Bushell, Giovanna R. Mallucci; Repurposed drugs targeting eIF2α-P-mediated translational repression prevent neurodegeneration in mice. Brain 2017 awx074. doi: 10.1093/brain/awx074