Individuals who underwent organ transplant are given a treatment to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted organ.

Now, findings of a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston suggest that the drug could also provide protection against Alzheimer's disease.

For the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease on July 7, the researchers looked at the medical records of more than 2,600 individuals who received an organ transplant and discovered that they have a lower incidence of dementia and Alzheimer's compared with the general population.

The researchers in particular found that only eight of the organ transplant patients showed evidence of dementia. Comparing this with the national data on the prevalence of Alzheimer's, the researchers concluded that the incidence of the neurodegenerative disorder is significantly lower and even nearly absent in the transplant group compared with that of the general population.

"In patients over 65 years, 11 percent of the general population had dementia compared with 1.02 percent of the study subjects. In Americans over 75 years, 15.3 percent of the population had dementia compared with 0.6 percent of the study subjects," said study researcher Luca Cicalese, from UTMB.

Organ transplant patients are prescribed calcineurin inhibitor-based drugs such as Tacrolimus or cyclosporine to suppress their immune system and prevent it from rejecting the new organs.

Calcineurin is an enzyme that regulates communication between the cells of the brain and memory formation. It has a critical part in the formation of toxic protein aggregates targeting and disrupting brain cells that are responsible for memory among individuals suffering from Alzheimer's.

Researchers, however, still need to come up with a way to block calcineurin, which could benefit Alzheimer's patients, without any impact on the immune system.

Giulio Taglialatela, from UTMB, said that they are now working on treatment strategies so as to get the same beneficial effects in Alzheimer's patients using low dosage of calcineurin inhibitors. This could result in minimal or no immunosuppression and thus limit potential unwanted side effects.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and is characterized by memory loss that gets worse overtime. The disease has no known cure yet, but researchers are identifying factors that could lessen a person's risks of developing the condition.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield in Britain, for instance, have found that individuals with Type O blood have reduced odds of suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Photo: Chilanga Cement | Flickr 

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