US scientists have found that a skin cancer drug is able to clear a known Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, from the brains of mice. The study, which also showed the mice had cognitive improvements, is published in the journal Science.
Researchers at Case Western University studied the effects of a drug called bexarotene, which is currently used as a cancer treatment, in mice generated to develop amyloid, a protein that builds in the brain in Alzheimer’s.
Bexarotene is known to increase the production of a protein called apoE, which is controlled by the APOE gene. One variant of the gene, APOE4, is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and the scientists wanted to find out whether increasing the amount of apoE could help clear amyloid from the brain.
They found that a single dose of the drug was able to reduce the amount of amyloid after six hours, although after 84 hours, the protein had returned to its initial levels. Daily doses of the drug led to a progressive reduction in amyloid levels over time, while the mice also showed improvements in a range of behavioural and cognitive tests.
The scientists believe their results suggest that bexarotene could be a useful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“While this early study may look promising, success in mice unfortunately does not always guarantee success in people. We would need to see the results of clinical trials before we could know whether bexarotene could prove beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s – and it would also be important to weigh up the risks of any potential side effects.
“There are a number of drugs in development that aim to clear amyloid from the brain, and the jury is still out on whether this approach will be successful as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. It may be that these treatments could be more effective if given early, meaning early detection of the disease will be crucial. If we can fully understand the causes of the disease, we stand a better chance of finding a treatment that could benefit people.
“With 820,000 people affected by dementia, we urgently need new, effective treatments for the condition – that means it’s vital that we invest in research.”