A commonly used anti-inflammatory drug could help to treat Alzheimer's disease, early findings from a new study show.
Memory loss and brain inflammation in mice were completely reversed when they were given mefenamic acid, a common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory Drug (NSAID) which is often used for period pain.
Dr David Brough, of Manchester University, who led the study, warns that more research is needed to identify its impact on humans. The findings are published in the Nature Communications journal.
The researchers were working on the idea that inflammation in the brain makes Alzheimer's disease worse. This is the first time a drug has been shown to target an important inflammatory pathway called the NLRP3 inflammasome which damages brain cells, according to Dr Brough.
There are around 500,000 people in the UK who have the progressive Alzheimer's disease. They may find their ability to remember, think and make decisions is hampered as time passes.
Dr Brough said: "Until now, no drug has been available to target this pathway, so we are very excited by this result.
"However, much more work needs to be done until we can say with certainty that it will tackle the disease in humans as mouse models don't always faithfully replicate the human disease."
He pointed out that the drug is already available and that the toxicity of it along with the studies of what the body does to a drug from the time it is absorbed to its excretion are already known. This could help shorten the time needed for it to reach patients than if they were trying to develop completely new drugs.
The study involved mice which had developed memory problems. One group of 10 mice was treated with mefenamic acid, while another 10 were given a placebo.
The mice were treated at the same time. The drug was given to them by a mini-pump implanted under the skin for one month.
Dr Doug Brown, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Testing drugs already in use for other conditions is a priority for Alzheimer's Society - it could allow us to short cut the 15 years or so needed to develop a new dementia drug from scratch.
"These promising lab results identify a class of existing drugs that have potential to treat Alzheimer's disease by blocking a particular part of the immune response.
"These drugs are not without side effects and should not be taken for Alzheimer's disease at this stage - studies in people are needed first."