What if a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease had already been discovered? That’s what a Yale University team of researchers are exploring. This promising new research could be a game-changer for the early stages of the neurodegenerative disease.
What exactly has been discovered?
According to an article that ran in New Atlas last week, an encouraging new Alzheimer’s treatment has been developed from a half-century old antibiotic. The new research suggests a drinkable cocktail composed of newly discovered polymers may disrupt the development of the disease early on, before later stages set in.
Back up, explain again how Alzheimer’s Disease develops.
Scientific studies have shown that the primary symptoms of the disease are caused by toxic accumulations in the brain, commonly known as plaques, by two proteins: amyloid beta and tau. It’s still not conclusively known why these proteins form, though some substantiated research points to brain trauma, an unhealthy lifestyle and heredity. Research and clinical trials are constantly occurring, trying to create drugs that will break up the plaques. Thus far, those efforts have all failed, which leads scientist to look for new approaches.
Research focuses on the early stages of the disease.
Things get technical here, but the researchers at Yale decided to focus on the earliest points of development of Alzheimer’s. It is known that a compound called cellular prion protein is a vital part of the toxic signaling process associated with the development of amyloid beta plaques. They believed that if they could disrupt the interactions between these two compounds then Alzheimer’s could be disrupted in the early stages and potentially stopped from developing. They wanted to find molecules that might have a disruptive effect on these two compounds.
What were their next steps?
They screened tens of thousands of potential molecules in their search for disruptors of the cellular prion protein and amyloid and tau protein development and one specific sample stood out. The cephalosporin antibiotic cefixime was shown to be highly inhibitory, meaning that it kept the plaques from developing. However, over the course of the study, the first attempts to prove this connection failed, which led researchers to believe a “degradation product” may be responsible.
Subsequent experiments revealed that decomposing the antibiotic over a number of days led to the organization of a specific polymer that could pass through the blood-brain barrier and break up the interaction between amyloid beta and cellular prion protein. This unique molecule was only found to result from cefixime or ceftazidime and no other cephalosporin antibiotics.
The polymer molecule was maximized, dissolved into a liquid, and tested on mice identified with Alzheimer’s disease. The results were encouraging, with the mice showing synapse repair and improved memory. Additionally, the experimental cocktail was also tested on cells modeled to have Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and similar success was reported.
Long road ahead.
While all of this news is exciting — and promising — there’s still a long way to go before the polymer cocktail can be discernibly considered as a successful early treatment for Alzheimer’s. Researchers need to further optimize the compounds and establish toxicity profiles before they are able to advance to human trials. New Atlas reports that David Reynolds, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, is optimistic about the initial testing. But like any good researcher, he cautions that much more work needs to be done before the treatment is close to clinical use.
However, an advancement such as this is still cause for optimism. The battle against Alzheimer’s rages on.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also enjoy The Importance of Biomarkers in Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease.