09/02/2012 14:41 GMT

Bexarotene Skin Cancer Drug Brings Fresh Hope To Alzheimer's Sufferers

American scientists have discovered a potential new drug that could help fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Neuroscientists from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine discovered that a skin cancer drug called bexarotene appears to reverse cognitive and memory deficits associated with Alzheimer’s when tested on lab mice.

The significant discovery, although only in its early stages, found that the drug cleared a naturally occurring protein in the brain called amyloid, which is closely linked to Alzheimer’s progression.

The amyloid proteins are naturally broken down and eliminated in healthy brains. However in Alzheimer's disease, these proteins accumulate into hard amyloid plaques and contribute towards the degradation of the brain’s nerve cells, causing the onset of dementia.

Researchers gave a selection of mice the cancer drug and discovered that each mouse had improved memory and behavior. What impressed scientists the most was the speed of the positive mental effects from the drug.

"This is a particularly exciting and rewarding study because of the new science we have discovered and the potential promise of a therapy for Alzheimer’s disease," study author, professor Gary Landreth told the Press Association.

However, while professor Landreth felt positive about these findings, he stressed that the study was in its early stages and had only been tested on mice.

"Our next objective is to ascertain if it acts similarly in humans," professor Landreth added.

Dr. Simon Ridley from Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: “While this early study may look promising, success in mice unfortunately does not always guarantee success in people.

"We would need to see the results of clinical trials before we could know whether bexarotene could prove beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s - and it would also be important to weigh up the risks of any potential side effects.

"It may be that these treatments could be more effective if given early, meaning early detection of the disease will be crucial.

"If we can fully understand the causes of the disease, we stand a better chance of finding a treatment that could benefit people.”

In the UK alone, Alzheimer’s disease affects over 820,000 people.

Recently Alzheimer's hit the headlines after scientists discovered the disease ‘jumps’ from one brain neuron to another much like an infection.

Researchers also discovered that decaffeinated coffee helps preserves memory function linked to Alzheimer’s and last year, a medical breakthrough was made when scientists designed a potent vaccine that could help prevent Alzheimer’s developing.

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