There is new hope today that existing drugs, used to treat depression, could stop the progression of dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Scientists have discovered that these drugs protect brain cells in the same way as compounds previously used successfully in animal research but which are unsuitable for humans. Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether these drugs really could halt the advance of at least some forms of dementia.

Professor Seth Love, Professor of Neuropathology at the University of Bristol, said, “On the face of it these are important findings, building on excellent experimental work by Professor Giovanna Mallucci and her group. The key observation was that the accumulation of abnormal aggregated proteins in neurodegenerative diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a prion disease) and Alzheimer's disease causes the cells that accumulate those aggregates to shut down all protein production. Professor Mallucci and her colleagues were able to prevent that shut-down, by blocking the action of an enzyme called PERK. This restored protein synthesis, and prevented cell death and clinical disease in mice infected with the agent that causes prion disease. However, the approaches used to block the action of PERK in mice were not safe for trials in human patients. The news reported by the BBC indicates that Professor Mallucci's group has now identified two drugs that have been used or tested in people for treatment of diseases other than dementias, but which also prevent the shut-down of protein synthesis and may therefore benefit patients with prion disease, Alzheimer's disease and possibly several other neurodegenerative diseases. This is potentially a major step forward in the development of treatments for these diseases, and I hope that these drugs can soon be tested in clinical trials."

Professor Stephen Lisney, Chairman of BRACE’s Scientific Advisory Committee, said, “Although this is potentially a major step forward, there is still much to be done to establish the causes of dementia in its many forms, diagnose the condition early enough for treatment to be fully effective, and develop treatments that will fully halt the progression of dementia. It is essential that we don't slacken the pace of research." 

See the BBC report for more information.

Photo: copyright, provided by SW Dementia Brain Bank/Medical Research Council