It seems like almost every day, news stories are released on the development of new drugs and treatments for many illnesses. Quite often, these reports are sensationalised for media consumption, and are based off first trial results that may not be echoed further down the line in human trials. Not to say that these reports are wrong, but they often create overhyped stories without encouraging critical thinking. However, it is important that medical research gets funding and worldwide attention, which is often achieved by spreading the news and raising awareness through reviews that catch attention.
This post reviews a paper recently published by Daniels et al in Nature Communications, which details the potential development of a drug for the treatment and reversal of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers affects around 500,000 people in the UK, and early trials have produced outstanding success in genetically modified mice.
What does this drug do?
The drug in question falls into the category of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs), which are used against lots of illnesses.
This category of NSAID drugs inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines– small molecules that stimulate inflammation through immune responses in inflammatory diseases, such as Alzheimers and also type II diabetes. Inflammation is caused by the inflammasome, a molecule found in inflamed cells that releases cytokines into the affected area. The inflammasome has pattern recognition receptors (PRRs), which recognise specific antigens from invading pathogens (in a very similar way to B cells). The antigen in Alzheimer’s is from the amyloid plaques that build up during the progression of the disease. The PRR that recognises this antigen is called NLRP3, which stimulates the production of Interleukin-1ß (IL1ß), a pro-inflammatory cytokine made in the inflammasome. This production of IL1ß damages brain cells, and contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
This class of drugs, specifically fenamate NSAIDs, inhibit the release of inflammatory IL1ß molecules from the inflammasome, by inhibiting only NLRP3. This allows the other receptors to function against pathogenic antigens, and prevents NLRP3 and potentially repress the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
In mice which had been genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s, the injection of mefenamic acid completely reversed the symptoms, and they seemed to completely recover from the disease.
Is this the final cure for Alzheimer’s?
With research like this, it is understandable to be excited about the potential uses this drug might have. However, we still need to think critically- there still needs to be a lot more research and medical trials before this drug could progress to human studies.
However, mefenamic acid is already used as a drug against other illnesses, and the side-effects are already known. This knowledge could speed up the process of drug development, and it will be exciting to see how much further this potential treatment progresses. Could it be the long-awaited treatment for Alzheimer’s?
The paper: Daniels et al. Fenamate NSAIDs inhibit the NLRP3 inflammasome and protect against Alzheimer’s disease in rodent models. 2016. Nature communications.
Words in pink are found in the glossary
Image from Zeiss photography (creative commons)