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New study argues the importance of existing anti-inflammatory drugs in fighting dementia

Published on 03/05/18 at 10:40am

Research into dementia has waned in recent times as researchers struggle to pin down concrete advancements, leading to the withdrawal of Pfizer from the space, among others. But a new study by scientists in Australia has put forward an explanation for why current approaches in the space have failed to produce progress in dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The team collated evidence from a range of human studies and animal models of dementia-related conditions, placing inflammation as a major trigger factor and not a consequence as many theorise, and illustrating how genes linked to the diseases regulate our susceptibility and response to inflammatory damage.

"For decades, scientists have thought that dementia and Alzheimer's Disease are caused by protein aggregates forming in the brain. But recent clinical trials of drugs that reduce the aggregates have failed," explained Project Leader Professor Robert Richards of the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences.

Professor Richards is working in collaboration with the University's Adelaide Medical School and the National Institutes of Health in the US.

"We know that inflammation has different phases - early on it can be protective against a threat by actively degrading it, but if the threat is not removed, then persistent inflammation actually causes cell death," he continued. "Many genes linked with dementia operate at the level of controlling cellular inflammation. Both internal and external triggers interact with these genes to play a part. Inflammation is the point through which many triggers converge.

"Inflammation is a very effective defence against foreign agents like viruses. But as we get older and accumulate mutations, our cells can make proteins and DNA products that mimic viruses, and these build up in the system," he added. "Normally, our cells bar-code their own products to tell them apart from foreign agents. When these bar-codes aren't in place, our cells can't properly distinguish 'self' and 'non-self' trigger molecules. The result is inflammation that escalates and spreads – hence the term autoinflammatory disease.”

Professor Richards and his team believe that by reducing elements of this inflammation, the symptoms of dementia can be minimised. They are now looking to test existing anti-inflammatory drugs for their efficacy in the treatment of dementia to confirm their hypothesis.

Matt Fellows

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