Brain “Wonder-drug” Might be a Cure for Dementia

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Scientists might have found a drug to stop all neuro-degenerative brain diseases, including dementia.

Dementia isn’t a specific disease but a syndrome. Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. Though dementia generally involves memory loss, memory loss has different causes. So memory loss alone doesn’t lead to dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease are a few different types of dementia.

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing — and growing fast. An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease. Of the estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017, an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer’s dementia. Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. African-Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as older whites. Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as older whites.

Because the United States has a growing population of people older than 65 years of age, the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementias is also increasing and has been projected to keep on increasing in the years to come. According to statistics, every 66 seconds, someone falls into the clasp of some form of dementia. By mid-century, this rate will increase further to every 33 seconds.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the fifth-leading cause of death among those age 65 and older and a leading cause of disability and poor health. As the population of the United States ages, Alzheimer’s is becoming a more common cause of death. It is the only top 10 causes of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

Although deaths from other major causes have decreased significantly, official records indicate that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased significantly. Between 2000 and 2014, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease as recorded on death certificates increased 89 percent, while deaths from heart disease, the number one cause of death, decreased 14 percent. Among people age 70, 61 percent of those with Alzheimer’s are expected to die before the age of 80 compared with 30 percent of people without Alzheimer’s — a rate twice as high.

A team of the Medical Research Council in the UK in 2013 made headlines around the world when they found out how to stop brain cells from dying in an animal for the first time. This could mean hope for patients suffering from neurodegenerative brain diseases. But the compound used was unsuitable for people, as it caused organ damage.

More recently, two new drugs have been found that should have the same protective effect on the brain and are already safely used in people. Since 2013, almost 1000 already existing drugs were tested on worms, mice, and human cells. Two of these drugs were found to have stopped brain cells from dying. One of these drugs is already being used by patients suffering from depression. The other is being tested in cancer patients. The drug already being used for depression, called trazodone, was found out to be more effective of the two.

Prof. Giovanna Mallucci, a researcher for the Medical Research Council’s Toxicology Unit in Leicester, who is also involved in this research, said, “both [drugs] were very highly protective and prevented memory deficits, paralysis, and dysfunction of brain cells.” She also stated that this new development is “really exciting”. She wants to start human clinical trials on dementia patients soon in order to know whether the drugs work.

“We’re very unlikely to cure them completely, but if you arrest the progression you change Alzheimer’s disease into something completely different so it becomes liveable with,” said Prof. Mallucci.

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Masters in Mass Communication, the writer is a journalist, currently working for FactsChronicle.

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