In a new study, researchers found a drug used to treat cirrhosis of the liver may be an effective treatment for a form of dementia and motor neuron disease.
They used brain cells from fruit flies and rats to model the neurodegeneration process which occurs in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
They identified new proteins involved in protecting neurons and discovered that Ursodeoxycholic Acid—an already approved drug, with very low toxicity—increases these proteins and protects neurons from death.
They will now embark on further research to discover exactly how the drug works to protect neurons and whether more targeted drugs to treat FTD and a range of other neurodegenerative conditions could be developed.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of York and elsewhere.
FTD impacts the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
Unlike other forms of dementia that primarily affect people over 65, FTD tends to start at a younger age with most cases diagnosed in people aged 45-65.
Up to 50% of cases of FTD have a genetic history of the disease in the family and previous research has identified nine genes that may have a role in its development.
In the study, The team used one of these genes to develop their unique genetic models of the disease in fruit flies and rat neurons.
In these models, they found ursodeoxycholic acid keeps neurons in better health, but the drug is not a potential cure for the disease.
The drug was effective for treating frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease, but it does not rectify the underlying deficits, suggesting that the drug is neuroprotective but not a cure.
The team says while this is in the early stages, the work a valuable first step on the road to finding a way to improve the lives of people with FTD and help them live longer.
One author of the study is Dr. Sean Sweeney from the Department of Biology.
The study is published in the Neurobiology of Disease.
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