A team of UBC researchers has found a drug commonly used to treat cancer has shown promise in relieving symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice.
The drug, Axitinib, is an anti-angiogenic that inhibits the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. Both cancer and Alzheimer’s patients have excessive blood vessel growth in the blood-brain barrier, a protective layer formed by a network of blood vessels that shield the brain from toxins and pathogens.
One month after being treated with Axitinib, mice with Alzheimer’s exhibited a dramatic reduction in blood vessel growth, restored the blood-brain barrier and reduced other Alzheimer’s markers in the brain. The mice also performed well on cognitive tests, successfully navigating mazes that mice with the disease are not normally able to complete.
Postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study, Chaahat Singh, told Black Press Media on Wednesday (Oct. 6) that the study found that the excess of blood vessels and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier occurred in the mice months before they showed other hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease established.
“In this study, we wanted to see the therapeutic aspect of this drug rather than the preventative aspect, so we used the animals at an age where they had clinical hallmarks already established to see whether this drug can actually reverse cognitive decline.”
Previous attempts to treat Alzheimer’s disease have either targeted a protein called tau or a protein fragment known as beta-amyloid. While those trials did show promise in animals, it ultimately failed in human clinical trials. The new study from UBC represents a paradigm shift that Singh hopes will encourage other researchers to look for new targets in treating Alzheimer’s.
“Some aspects of the disease that are not being looked at and we need to look at Alzheimer’s from a holistic point of view to treat different aspects of it. The success of this kind of work encourages everyone to look for those novel targets. That’s really important to treat Alzheimer’s and help millions of people who suffer from it,” Singh said.
The next steps will be for researchers to determine if the hallmarks of the disease return after treatment. Singh said it’s likely that the treatment will be long-term as the drug as it is unclear whether treatment will impact the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers plan to move the study toward clinical trials, but first they must gather enough funding and complete the due diligence processes necessary to conduct clinical research. Since the study relies on a drug that is already approved, it’s likely to speed up the timeline for next steps.
“Researchers including myself have been disappointed in observing numerous clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease fail to reach their clinical endpoints,” said professor Wilf Jefferies, the study’s senior author and principal investigator.
“The therapeutic approach we discovered has an opportunity to revise the clinical treatment of Alzheimer’s patients, which I think is absolutely needed at this point for the field to advance.”
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