These two old drugs may help treat Alzheimer’s disease

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In a new study from Rush University, researchers found two drugs approved decades ago not only counteract brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease but also may improve cognition.

If the surprising drug combination continues to destroy a key feature of the disease, then an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s may have been hiding for decades in plain sight.

A promising series of early studies are highlighting two well-known medicine cabinet standbys—gemfibrosil, an old-school cholesterol-lowering drug, and retinoic acid, a vitamin A derivative.

Gemfibrosil, is sold as Lopid and while it’s still used, it is not widely prescribed. Doctors now prefer to prescribe statins to lower cholesterol.

Retinoic acid has been used in various formulations to treat everything from acne to psoriasis to cancer.

In the study, the two drugs are being studied for their robust impact on the brain and a potential new role that could one day thrust them into fighting what is now an incurable brain disease.

Both medications have an uncanny capability to zero in on the brain’s astrocytes, cells that originally got their name because they look like stars.

Previous studies have found that astrocytes may be responsible for the accumulation of amyloid beta (Aβ), the gooey plaque that damages neurons.

As a result, these star-like cells aid in the cascade of deleterious events that rob people of their sense of self, and their memories, and ultimately steal their lives.

In the study, the team discovered that gemfibrozil and retinoic acid, when used in combination, force astrocytes to reverse their destructiveness, and instead reduce amyloid-beta in the brain—improving cognitive function.

The findings suggest that perhaps in the not-too-distant future, these drugs can be repurposed to coax astrocytes into a beneficial role, serving as Aβ “clearing machines,” eliminating the accumulation of plaques and preventing Alzheimer’s from unraveling the brain.

If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies that this blood test can predict dementia, Alzheimer’s is 5 years early and a longer reproductive period may increase Alzheimer’s disease risk in women.

For more information about Alzheimer’s and dementia, please see recent studies that one year of this exercise training may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and results showing that COVID-19 may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is published in Science Signaling. One author of the study is Dr. Sumita Raha.

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