Alzheimer's disease is a debilitating condition that has no other way to go but forward. The disease keeps on progressing and at present, the only choice for management is to address existing symptoms.

Now, researchers were able to determine that a type of neurostatin may help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease when people take it early, say in their 30s.

The drug acts during the initial phase of brain cell death, thus suggesting that treatment may be created to fight against Alzheimer's in the same way that statins protect against heart diseases. This idea has long been proposed. However, this is the first time that a so-called "neurostatin" has been reported.

"You wouldn't give statins to someone who had just had a heart attack, and we doubt that giving a neurostatin to an Alzheimer's patient who could no longer recognize a family member would be very helpful," says co-author Chris Dobson. He adds, however, that if the drug reduces the risk at the initial phase of the disease process, then maybe it can be a key tool for preventive treatment.

Establishing What Truly Happens In Alzheimer's Disease

Senior author Michele Vendruscolo explains that the body has natural defenses, but as people age, these defenses gradually decline in function. Understanding how these defenses work may help experts create drugs with the same functions – drugs that can replace the natural defenses as they slowly degenerate with age.

Twenty years have passed yet success remains elusive.

Hoping to finally have an answer, the researchers from the current study used a test developed by co-authors Tuomas Knowles and Sara Linse. Through this test, the team was able to determine what occurs during the early phase of the disease and what happens if one of those processes gets cut out.

Finding The Right Drug

The scientists then arranged a library of more than 10,000 molecules of drugs that are known to interact with amyloid-beta, a molecule recognized to have a significant role in Alzheimer's disease.

They then used the test developed by Knowles and Linse to analyze the molecules of drugs that were either approved for other purposes or are specifically developed for Alzheimer's. The first drug they identified was a bexarotene, an FDA-approved drug for lymphoma.

Bexarotene halts the first step in molecular cascade that results in brain cell death. Such process is called primary nucleation, which initiates different processes that lead to brain damage associated with Alzheimer's disease. Vendruscolo says the action of bexarotene of stopping primary nucleation is the main objective of any neurostatin-like molecule.

The scientists already tested bexarotene in nematode worms that were genetically programmed to develop Alzheimer's disease. When the researchers put bexarotene on worms that are already showing symptoms, the drug did not have an effect. However, when the drug was given to worms that have not shown signs of Alzheimer's yet, no trace of the disorder appeared.

Key Discovery: Attacking At The Right Time

The key discovery in this research is that it has determined the perfect time to instill an effective treatment.

Dobson says that even if a potent drug is at hand, it still won't work if the timing is not right or if it was administered at the wrong point of the process. Doing this will not only yield ineffective results, it can also make things worse by allowing toxic proteins to build up.

Another valuable point is to manage Alzheimer's before possible symptoms, such as distinct urine odor, appear. The disease is expected to affect 40 million to 130 million people over the next 35 years. One vital strategy is to manage it before it becomes overwhelming.

Photo : Michael Vines | Flickr

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