August 23, 2010

UK: Cancer drug could help cure dementia

LONDON, England / The Daily Express / UK News / August 23, 2010

By Victoria Fletcher, Health Editor

SCIENTISTS have discovered how to “completely reverse” the signs of dementia in less than a month, according to new research.

A protein which is used already as a treatment for cancer appears to be capable of treating Alzheimer’s.

The cancer drug could help cure dementia

Early tests on mice indicated that those bred to suffer with Alzheimer’s regained much of their memory within 20 days of starting treatment.

Some saw their symptoms “completely reverse” after being given injections of the protein, known as GM-CSF.

Scientists are excited by the findings because the protein is used currently on patients battling cancer – and it has proven to be safe. This means that human trials of the protein in connection with dementia could be carried out quickly.

Experts also believe that their discovery solves the riddle of why people with rheumatoid arthritis are less likely to suffer dementia. This disease triggers a release of the same protein and, therefore, may offer them protection.

But experts warned last night that the early results were only on mice and so the same effects may not occur in humans. Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This exciting research provides a possible answer to the long unexplained question of why rheumatoid arthritis could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Given that the identified protein is already available as a drug that is proven to be safe in humans, the time taken to develop an Alzheimer’s disease treatment could be substantially reduced.

“But we must not jump the gun. Much more research is needed before we can say for certain the findings demonstrated in mice would also occur in humans. One in three people over 65 will die with dementia yet dementia research receives eight times less investment than cancer research. We must invest now if we are to move forward with the advancement of potentially life-changing treatments.”

Researchers found a protein triggered by rheumatoid arthritis could undo the 'tangles' in the brain that are thought to cause Alzheimer's. 
Photo: The Telegraph/Alamy

The latest research was carried out by a team at the University of South Florida in the United States.

They gave the protein, also known as Leukine, to two groups of mice. One had been bred to develop symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. The others were healthy. Another group of mice, both healthy and specially-bred, were given a placebo.

They found that mice who were given the protein saw a 50 per cent drop in a substance known to clog brain cells and trigger Alzheimer’s. Tim Boyd PhD, who published his research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, said he was “amazed” by the findings. He added: “We were pretty amazed the treatment completely reversed cognitive impairment in 20 days.”

Dr Simon Ridley, from the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said: “Positive results in mice can be an important first step for any new treatment – and it’s encouraging the team is already planning the crucial next stage of clinical trials in people. We won’t know whether GM-CSF can help people with Alzheimer’s until these are complete.

“The worldwide burden of dementia is growing, with more than 35 million people now affected. Research is the only answer to dementia, we must support our scientists in their efforts to beat it.”

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