Alzheimer's disease is one of the main risks that come with old age. About one in six people over the age of eighty will develop it, and annual it accounts for 60,000 deaths within the UK. By 2025, there will be over 1 million people with the disease. So naturally any breakthrough in treating the disease, and a new pharmaceutical development is attracting attention for its very unusual approach to the problem. Instead of trying to eliminate the disease itself, it tries to address one of the main causes. Old age.
That's right. The Salk Institute has just developed a potential aging-reversal chemical.
By using a cell-based screen against the usual age-related toxins that usually result in the development of Alzheimer's and dementia, Saulk Institute developed J147, a pharmaceutical alternative to the usual treatments of dementia. While most treatments focus on getting rid of the toxins that visibly cause Alzheimer's, J147 targets the leading cause: the effects of aging.
Now it's worth stressing that this is still very much in the testing stages, and that the chemical in question, dubbed J147, doesn't literally make old people young. That'd be a bit too good to be true. However preliminary testing on mice has shown that subjects treated with J147 do exhibit a number of very surprising physiological effects. After treatment, elderly mice quickly showed improved results on cognitive and memory tests, and showed more refined control of their motor functions. Other results included lowered brain inflammation, lowered oxidised fats in the brain, and increased energy.
In essence, the subjects began to resemble younger mice in their physiology again.
Further, mice treated with J147 also showed reduced blood leakage from damaged vessels in the brain. As you get older damaged blood vessels are just a thing that happens, but in Alzheimer's the problem is particularly acute. Eventually these can result in fatal damage to the brain's circulatory system.
While naturally we're all excited by the potential promise behind this new treatment, it always pays to approach this with caution. Nothing has actually been settled, and the treatment still has a long way to go before we start seeing this being offered in clinics and hospitals. Human pharmaceutical testing has yet to be undertaken yet, although Salk Institute hopes to begin trials sometime next year. Until then, what effects J147 will have on humans is still very much an open question. However if successful it will open new doors for those suffering from Alzheimer's, and greatly assist in combating the disease for future generations.
"While most drugs developed in the past 20 years target the amyloid plaque deposits in the brain (which are a hallmark of the disease), none have proven effective in the clinic," says Professor David Schubert, the lead author of the study. "[…]If proven safe and effective for Alzheimer's, the apparent anti-aging effect of J147 would be a welcome benefit."
So who knows? Maybe in a few years we may actually see a reduction in the number of Alzheimer's cases rather than an increase by 2025. Until then, we're watching the work of these researchers very closely indeed.