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New drug study successfully halts neurodegeneration in mice

Published on 20/04/17 at 10:22am
Image Credit: Rama

A team of scientists at Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Toxicology Unit in Leicester, UK have identified methods to prevent neurodegeneration in mice, leading to new hopes in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in humans.

Building upon their previous work which originally discovered the pathway in mice which leads to brain cell death, the team have now identified two drugs which block the same pathway. Their research highlighted that the accumulation of misfolded proteins – a driving factor in the development of neurodegenerative diseases – in mice with prion disease causes the production of new proteins in brain cells to cease. By reversing this process using an experimental drug, degeneration in the brain could be halted – but, this same drug is toxic to the human pancreas.

In their latest study, after testing 1,040 different compounds in C elegans worm models and mammalian cells, the team singled out trazodone hydrochloride and dibenzoylmethane as suitable candidates which successfully stimulated protein production in the brains of mice and prevented signs of brain cell damage and brain shrinkage.

Dibenzoylmethane is currently being investigated as an anti-cancer treatment, but the striking part of the research is that trazodone is already approved as an antidepressant treatment, meaning its safety is not in question and it could be entered into clinical trials immediately.

“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 disease and other dementias,” explained team leader Professor Giovanna Mallucci. “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.

“Interestingly, trazodone has been used to treat the symptoms of patients in later stages of dementia, so we know it is safe for this group,” she continued. “We now need to find out whether giving the drug to patients at an early stage could help arrest or slow down the disease through its effects on this pathway.”

Matt Fellows

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