Two Drugs Identified That Could Halt The Progression Of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases cause brain cells to die. Photoprofi30/Shutterstock

Researchers have found two drugs already in various stages of use and human clinical trial that seem to prevent all neurodegenerative diseases in mice. Published in the journal Brain, the research could be a major breakthrough in preventing the devastating diseases from progressing in humans.

When brain cells are infected with a virus, the pathogen co-opts the cell to produce its own viral proteins, which begin to build up within the cell. In order to fight this and prevent the spread of the virus, the cell reacts by blocking all protein production. In many neurodegenerative diseases, a similar situation occurs, in which faulty proteins are over-produced in the brain cells and the brain reacts in a very similar way, but for much more prolonged periods.

Problems start to arise because the brain cells halt protein production for such a long period of time that the brains cells effectively starve themselves and start dying. When this spreads to neurons, it can then lead to the familiar symptoms of memory loss, movement impairment, and even death in severe types of neurodegenerative diseases.

In 2013, the same team of researchers found a compound that prevented the brain cells from overreacting and shutting down all protein production, which prevented the brain cells from dying. Yet there was a catch: the molecule also damaged the pancreas. And so they have since turned to other drugs to see if they can find others that achieve a similar result.

After screening over 1,000 different drugs already in existence, they came across two that seemed to have the desired effect. One of these, known as trazodone, is already used clinically to treat patients with depression, while the second, called DBM, is naturally found in small amounts in liquorice and is currently undergoing trials to see if it can effectively treat cancer.

The researchers first tested the drugs on mice that had a prion-related disease, and found that not only did it work in the same way that the previous one did in preventing brain cell death, the mice also showed improvement in disease-related behavior, while at the same time there was no observed impact on the pancreas. Following this, the drugs were then tested on mice that had other neurodegenerative diseases and they were found to improve their ability to perform memory tests.

This is promising news, as since the drugs have already been or are in the process of being tested on humans, it should make the process of proceeding to clinical trials much easier. While the researchers stress that the drugs are not a cure, they could prevent the disease progression, radically altering how we treat them. 

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