Many women who suffer from menstrual pain turn to mefenamic acid, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), for relief during their monthly period.
It appears, though, that the common anti-inflammatory drug also shows promise as treatment for Alzheimer's disease, a condition that currently affects more than 5 million Americans and has no available cure.
The drug works by targeting an inflammatory pathway known as NLRP3 inflammasome, which is known to damage brain cells.
In a new animal study, David Brough, from The University of Manchester, and colleagues found that the drug can completely reverse memory loss and brain inflammation, the hallmark changes observed in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.
The results suggest that inflammation causes the neurological disease to get worse, and treatment of the inflammation may reduce its effects.
"Treatment with mefenamic acid of an established disease model abated brain inflammation and memory deficits suggesting that inflammation is a druggable target for Alzheimer's disease," the researchers wrote in their study.
For the research, Brough together with PhD student Michael J. D. Daniels and postdoc Jack Rivers-Auty, treated two groups of mice with symptoms of Alzheimer's disease with either a mefenamic acid over a period of one month or placebo.
They found that memory loss was reversed in mice that were treated with the drug, and their memory returned to levels comparable with those mice without the disease.
Although the drug shows promise for sufferers of the debilitating disease and is already widely used, the researchers said that additional studies are still needed to determine the potential side effects of taking the drug as treatment for Alzheimer's and to establish its effectiveness.
Nonetheless, because the drug is already used and its toxicity and pharmacokinetics are already known, it would take a shorter time for it to be used by Alzheimer's patients than if researchers develop new drugs.
Alzheimer's Society Director of Research and Development Doug Brown said that testing drugs that are already used for other conditions allow researchers to shortcut the time of about 15 years or so required to develop a new drug for dementia from scratch.
"However, these drugs are not without side effects and should not be taken for Alzheimer's disease at this stage — studies in people are needed first," said Brown.
Alzheimer's disease, which often affects older adults, remains an incurable condition. Research, however, has shown that brain games and engaging in a healthy lifestyle can lower risks for this neurological disease.
The study titled "Fenamate NSAIDs inhibit the NLRP3 inflammasome and protect against Alzheimer's disease in rodent models" was published online Aug. 11 in the journal Nature Communications 7:12504 doi: 10.1038/ncomms12504 (2016).