The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, demonstrated that a drug named AC253, which never made it to market as a diabetes treatment, could block the effects of amyloid protein in the brain. Amyloids can lead to brain cell death, and are found in abnormally large amounts in the brains of dementia patients.
"This is very important because it tells us that drugs like this might be able to restore memory, even after Alzheimer's disease may have set in," said Dr. Jack Jhamandas, the principal investigator on the study and a researcher at the University of Alberta.
The researchers looked at brain tissue samples from animals with Alzheimer's and tested their memory capacity by shocking them with electrical impulses. When AC253 was given to the brain cells, it was found through further shock memory tests that the cells had had their memory capacity restored to levels similar to normal brain cells.
"I think what we discovered may be part of the solution, but I can't say it will be the solution," said Jhamandas. "There is a long list of drugs and approaches that haven't panned out as expected in the fight against Alzheimer's. I don't think one drug or approach will solve Alzheimer's disease because it's a complicated disease, but I am cautiously optimistic about our discovery and its implications."
The researchers will continue their testing to see if the drug can be used to prevent the impairment of behavior and cognition in animals that will develop Alzheimer's. The tests will take at least a year to complete, but Jhamandas believes clinical trials could begin within five years.