Study shows cancer drug could reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

  • A skin cancer drug that has been available for nearly 13 years could be the new Alzheimer’s hero. A study using genetically engineered mice showed that bexarotene (Targretin) reversed Alzheimer’s symptoms in mice by eliminating brain-damaging proteins.


    In the study. which was published online Feb. 9 by Science, researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, along with other colleagues, used mice genetically engineered to exhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. An article reporting on the study in the online version of Scientific American said, “Most notably, the [genetically engineered] mice produce amyloid beta peptides – toxic protein fragments that gum up neurons and lead to cell death – and showed signs of forgetfulness.”

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    Bexarotene was fed to the genetically engineered mice with AD. The article stated that, with one single dose it “lowered the most toxic form of the amyloid beta peptide by 25 percent within six hours, an effect that lasted for up to three days.” The mice that were cognitively impaired by the protein buildup resumed normal behaviors after 72 hours. Bexarotene was approved in 1999 for cutaneous T cell lymphomas.


    A long search with many failures

    Drugs companies have been scrambling for years to find a formula that would prevent or reverse the tell-tale protein buildup in Alzheimer’s afflicted brains. Many drugs have looked promising in studies only to disappoint when they were used in human trials.


    Samuel Gandy, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and associate director of the hospital's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center is quoted in the article as saying, "I think this is extremely promising…One of the drugs that has been on our wish list for 25 years is a drug that would clear existing amyloid deposits."


    Drug trials with humans could start soon

    My excitement over studies is often in direct proportion to how soon people can benefit from the findings. According to the Scientific American article, this drug will be available for human trials within, perhaps, months. We need to remember that not all drugs work the same in humans as they do in mice. However, if bexarotene does produce the same  effects in humans as it does in mice, this drug could be one giant step toward a cure for Alzheimer’s.


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Published On: February 14, 2012