Existing drug may prevent Alzheimer’s

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EMERGING evidence suggests that a “potent” drug could prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease — but only if a person takes the medication long before symptoms of this condition make an appearance.
An existing drug may be able to stop Alzheimer’s onset, researchers say. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 5.7 million adults in the United States live with this condition.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and following disease onset, symptoms tend to worsen progressively. Then, the question, “Can specialists prevent the disease in people deemed at increased risk?” arises.
The authors of a new study, from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, suggest that one drug called memantine — which is currently used to manage Alzheimer’s symptoms — may actually help prevent the disease. This, however, might only happen if a person takes the drug before symptoms set in.
“Based on what we’ve learned so far, it is my opinion that we will never be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease by treating patients once they become symptomatic,” says Prof. George Bloom, of the University of Virginia, who oversaw the study.
“The best hope for conquering this disease is to first recognize patients who are at risk, and begin treating them prophylactically with new drugs and perhaps lifestyle adjustments that would reduce the rate at which the silent phase of the disease progresses,” he says, adding, “Ideally, we would prevent it from starting in the first place.”
The journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia has now published the team’s findings. The researchers explain that Alzheimer’s disease actually begins long before symptoms start to show — perhaps even a decade or longer in advance.
One of the condition’s characteristics is that, once affected by the disease, brain cells attempt to divide — possibly in order to balance out the death of other neurons — only to die, anyway.
In any case, the further division of fully formed brain cells is unusual and does not happen in a healthy brain. The affected neurons’ attempt at division is called the “cell cycle re-entry process.”
“It’s been estimated that as much as 90 percent of neuron death that occurs in the Alzheimer’s brain follows this cell cycle re-entry process, which is an abnormal attempt to divide,” explains Prof. Bloom.
Recent advances in Alzheimer’s research are speeding up the process of designing better therapies. “By the end of the course of the disease, the patient will have lost about 30 percent of the neurons in the frontal lobes of the brain,” he estimates. Study co-author Erin Kodis — Prof. Bloom’s former doctoral student — formed her own hypothesis about what triggers this mechanism.

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