Researchers working in Switzerland and Germany have found evidence strengthening the concept that the immune system plays a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease. The study was done on mice using the drug ustekinumab, which is a biologic drug already approved by the Food & Drug Administration for the treatment of plaque psoriasis, an auto-immune disease.
According to an article in the LA Times, Johannes vom Berg and his colleagues think that clinical trials of the drug ustekinumab should be launched to see if the drug will help fight Alzheimer’s in humans. These researchers referred to medications tested in psoriasis and other auto-immune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis as the “ideal candidate for the initiation of clinical trials for Alzheimer's.” The new study was published in a recent edition of the journal Nature Medicine.
Dr. Lon Schneider, director of pharmacological research at USC's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, who was not involved with the current study said, “This kind of research is a step forward in identifying potential human targets for drug action." Schneider is taking a cautious approach however, saying what works in mouse studies does not always translate to humans.
International researchers have been studying the role of the immune system as it affects the development of Alzheimer’s for a number of years. An article in the New York Times a year ago noted that “two groups of researchers working from entirely different starting points have converged on a mutated gene involved in… Alzheimer’s disease: the immune system’s role in protecting against the disease. The mutation is suspected of interfering with the brain’s ability to prevent the buildup of plaque.”
One of the researchers connected to the new study, Dr. Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics of Iceland said, “I was of the opinion that the immune system would play a fairly small role, if any, in Alzheimer’s disease. This discovery cured me of that bias.”
Our immune system is vital for defending our bodies against hostile attacks from outside substances. However, on occasion, something can go awry and our immune system can turn on us, attacking our own cells. Could existing drugs used to treat psoriasis or other auto-immune diseases provide one more key to solving the Alzheimer’s puzzle? We’ll watch future studies with interest to see where this hypothesis leads.
Healy, M. (2012, November 27) Psoriasis drug may halt or reverse Alzheimer's disease. LA Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-alzheimers-autoimmune-reverse-mental-decline-20121127,0,3568193.story
Kolata, G. (2012, November 14) Alzheimer’s Tied to Mutation Harming Immune Response. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/15/health/gene-mutation-that-hobbles-immune-response-is-linked-to-alzheimers.html?_r=0