A drug that has previously been used to treat depression could help to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study has found. Early tests suggest trazodone could reduce shrinkage of the brain and, since it has been proven safe for humans, could be available in two years.
Despite having been around since the sixties, trazodone is now only rarely used to treat depression, as newer drugs are on the market. Tests also found that the anti-cancer medication dibenzoylmethane reduced shrinking in the brain.
The way in which these drugs work is by blocking a defence mechanism that occurs naturally in cells, but is overactive in those with degenerative cognitive conditions. The research was carried out by the Medical Research Council’s Toxicology Unit in Leicester in collaboration with Cambridge University.
Professor Giovanna Mallucci led the team. She said: “We know that trazodone is safe to use in humans, so a clinical trial is now possible to test whether the protective effects of the drug we see on brain cells in mice with neurodegeneration also applies to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”
The findings have been reported in the journal Brain and have already been welcomed by experts. Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society, which supports people with dementia, said that it was an exciting breakthrough.
Dementia is one of the most prevalent causes of disability in the elderly and is a growing problem in the UK. Despite being ahead of cancer, strokes and cardiovascular disease in terms of those affected, the country spends less on care and a search for the cure.
A treatment that could delay the onset of dementia by just five years would mean deaths from the condition could be halved, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. This would mean 30,000 fewer people dying every year.