Advances in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Research

Published: 22/05/2016

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Scientists at John Hopkins in the USA have developed tiny human mini brains which can actually think, using electrical activity which can be measured.  They say that they are around the size of an insect eye, and can be mass-produced so that new drugs can be tested on them instead of testing on animals.  This will produce far more accurate results, as well as avoiding ethical issues.
In the meantime, scientists at Cambridge University having being using worms for their research, and are focusing on preventing Alzheimer’s rather than treating it.  In the same way that statins are used to protect the heart, they have tested “neurostatins” which successfully prevent the very first stages of brain cell death in worms.
As is so often the case, drugs which have been developed for a completely different purpose have been found to have a beneficial effect on the brain.  For example, the cancer drug bexarotene, for example, was found to stop the first step which leads to the death of brain cells in worms genetically programmed to develop Alzheimer's disease.  It has no benefit if given later in the progress of the disease, and the scientists need to match each prospective drug therapy with the appropriate stage.
Any new drug will need to be rigorously tested for years before there can be trials with humans, so there is a huge advantage in working with those which have already been through these tests.  However, trials will still be necessary because they are being used in a different way.  All drugs have side effects, and these have to be assessed and weighed against the benefits.