In a new study from University of British Columbia, researchers found a drug commonly used to treat cancer can restore memory and cognitive function in mice that display symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
The drug, Axitinib, inhibits the growth of new blood vessels in the brain—a feature shared by both cancer tumors and Alzheimer’s disease, but this hallmark represents a new target for Alzheimer’s therapies.
Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to affect 50 million people worldwide. The condition is characterized by cognitive decline, memory loss and dysfunctional changes in the brain.
Potential Alzheimer’s treatments have shown promise in animal models before but failed in clinical trials.
Typically, these strategies target a protein called tau or a protein fragment known as beta-amyloid, but the researchers chose a different approach.
They left the traditional targets alone and instead focused on curbing angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels.
Setting the stage for the present study, the team’s earlier pioneering work had shown that the proliferation of blood vessels compromises the blood-brain barrier in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
This barrier, made largely of blood vessels, is believed to protect the brain from infection because foreign molecules cannot easily cross it.
Since cancerous tumors also rely on new blood vessel growth to survive and thrive, the researchers reasoned that a proven anti-cancer drug might halt the process in Alzheimer’s.
They found axitinib, the anti-cancer drug we used, blocks a receptor in the brain called a tyrosine kinase receptor, which is partly responsible for spurring blood vessel formation.
It stops abnormal blood vessels from growing, which then prevents many downstream effects.
By using axitinib for just one month, the researchers dramatically reduced blood vessel growth in the brain, restored the blood-brain barrier, and most importantly, helped mice perform better on cognitive tests.
The treatment has only been applied to mice thus far. Clinical trials will be needed to assess the effectiveness of this treatment in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as consideration for the long-term use of anti-cancer drugs in people living with Alzheimer’s, who are mostly elders.
Still, the researchers are optimistic. If Axitinib does work well in humans, repurposing an already-approved drug could more rapidly advance its use for Alzheimer’s.
If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about how your eyes could show early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and findings of these personality traits may protect you from dementia.
For more information about dementia prevention and treatment, please see recent studies about common heartburn drugs may increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease and results showing that new drug that may help treat heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s.
The study is published in EBioMedicine. One author of the study is Professor Wilf Jefferies.
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