A single pill could be used to treat a variety of brain conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, scientists claim.
The new class of drug, which can be taken orally, is designed to protect the brain by combating the damaging effects of inflammation.
Results from early stage clinical trials have yet to be announced, but studies on animals suggest the therapy could be effective against a wide range of conditions which also include motor neurone disease and complications from traumatic brain injury.
Two drugs in the new class, known as MW151 and MW189, have already been patented by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.
They work by preventing the harmful overproduction of damaging brain proteins called cytokines, which scientists believe contribute to a number of degenerative brain conditions, as well as brain damage following stroke or injury, by killing nerve cells and damaging connections within the brain.
Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers reported that mice which were genetically programmed to develop Alzheimer’s did not develop the full-blown condition if they had taking the drug from six months of age, when their levels of the damaging proteins began to rise.
In humans, this would coincide with the point when patients begin to experience early symptoms such as memory loss, they said.
At eleven months, the mice’s brains were analysed. Levels of the proteins in the mice which had been treated were normal, whereas those which had not been treated had unusually high levels and were showing signs of brain deterioration.
Co-author Dr Linda Van Eldik, director of the Sanders-Brown Centre on Aging at the University of Kentucky, said: “The drug protected against the damage associated with learning and memory impairment. Giving this drug before Alzheimer’s memory changes are at a late stage may be a promising future approach to therapy.”