Researchers at Rockefeller University in the US have found that a new drug is capable of reversing genetic changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
A study on rats, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that the drug (called Riluzole) led to an improved clearing away of excess glutamate in the brain.
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that, in old age, can begin to build up between cells, killing off neutrons and contributing to cognitive decline.
Riluzole is currently being tested for the first time in Alzheimer’s patients in a clinical trial at the Rockefeller University Hospital.
Researchers suggest that the drug modifies a gene, EAAT2, which is known to play a role in removing excess glutamate and is also linked to Alzheimer’s.
Ana Pereira, the study’s lead author, said: ‘In ageing and Alzheimer’s, the chemical signal glutamate can accumulate between neurons, damaging the circuitry. When we treated rats with Riluzole, we saw a suite of changes. Perhaps most significantly, expression of molecules responsible for clearing excess glutamate returned to more youthful levels.’
Study co-author Jason Gray said: ‘The essence is we used a drug known to modulate glutamate, and when we gave it to old rats, we saw it reversed many of the changes that begin in middle age in the hippocampus. We saw a similar pattern when we compared the Riluzole-induced changes to data from Alzheimer’s patients — in a number of key pathways in the hippocampus, the drug produced an effect opposing that of the disease.’
For many of my patients, the fear of developing Alzheimer’s disease is now as strong as that of developing problems such as cancer and this is partly due to the effective campaigns highlighting the scale of the problem and its increasing incidence in our ageing population. Unfortunately, no clear effective treatments are available and much work is being done as a consequence to find this medical holy grail.
We know that when we age, a part of the brain that is crucial to memory called the hippocampus can decline abnormally fast and this in turn can lead to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. If this decline can be slowed or counteracted then the consequences would be profound.
This research has found that the drug Riluzole — already used in treating the neurological condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — appears to reverse some of the key genetic changes associated with brain cell damage typically found in early Alzheimer’s.
This has significant potential, but the caveat here is in the word potential. The first clinical trial is now underway in America and it will be some years before this appears as a potential treatment — and that is only if repeated trials continue to show the efficacy of this drug in large numbers of patients. This remains an interesting step in the long hard march to an Alzheimer’s treatment. It is one that should spur researchers and doctors on.
Research score: 3/5