There is a promising new treatment for Alzheimer's coming out of research from neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. But it's really not new -- it's a drug that has been FDA approved for more than a decade for use in cancer patients.
Bexarotene is currently used to stop the growth of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma cancer cells but the Case Western researchers found that the drug also can reduce plaque build-up in the brain of mice affected with Alzheimer's.
A statement on the research explains that with the disease, the body loses its ability to clear naturally-occurring proteins from the brain due to a defficiency of Apolipoprotein E (ApoE), which is the main carrier of cholesterol in the brain. In this study, the bexarotene increased production of ApoE and was able to speed clearance of the protein buildup -- called amyloid beta.
Within just six hours of administering the drug, researchers saw amyloid beta levels drop by 25 percent with effects lasting three days. The total reduction seen was about 75 percent. Here's an example of the drug's efficacy in reducing some of the effects of Alzheimer's in the mice:
One example of the improved behaviors involved the typical nesting instinct of the mice. When Alzheimer's-diseased mice encountered material suited for nesting – in this case, tissue paper – they did nothing to create a space to nest. This reaction demonstrated that they had lost the ability to associate the tissue paper with the opportunity to nest. Just 72 hours after the bexarotene treatment, however, the mice began to use the paper to make nests. Administration of the drug also improved the ability of the mice to sense and respond to odors.
"This is an unprecedented finding," says Paige Cramer in the statement, a PhD candidate at Case Western and first author of the study. "Previously, the best existing treatment for Alzheimer's disease in mice required several months to reduce plaque in the brain."
Learn more about the study in this video from Case Western:
"Many often think of Alzheimer's as a problem of remembering and learning, but the prevalent reality is this disease spreads throughout the brain, resulting in serious insults to numerous functions," said Daniel Wesson, assistant professor of neurosciences at Case Western and study co-author. "The results of this study, showing the preservation of behaviors across a wide spectrum, and accompanying brain function, are tremendously exciting and suggest great promise in the utility of this approach in treatment of Alzheimer's disease."
With the drug already having approval by the FDA for cancer treatment and a good safety and side effect reputation, the researchers hope these factors will speed the process of getting the drug to human trials.