Jack Jhamandas

A drug intended for diabetes is able to restore memory in brain cells affected by Alzheimer’s disease, scientists at the University of Alberta , Canada have discovered.

In tests on animal brain cells, medical researchers demonstrated that AC253, a drug that never made it to market, restored memory to levels similar to those of normal cells.

University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researcher Dr Jack Jhamandas said that clinical trials could start within five years, but noted that researchers would have to design a drug that is similar to AC253 but is easier to cross the brain barrier.

"I think what we discovered may be part of the solution, but I can’t say it will be the solution. There is a long list of drugs and approaches that haven’t panned out as expected in the fight against Alzheimer’s. I don’t think one drug or approach will solveAlzheimer’s disease because it’s a complicated disease, but I am cautiously optimistic about our discovery and its implications," Jhamandas said.

If tests and trials are successful, the drug could block the toxic effects of amyloid protein that lead to brain-cell death.

"This is very important because it tells us that drugs like this might be able to restore memory, even after Alzheimer’s disease may have set in," added Jhamandas.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded the work at the University of Alberta.

CIHR Institute of Aging scientific director Yves Joanette said an estimated 1.2 million Canadians will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over the coming 30 years.

"To respond to this growing health-care challenge, CIHR developed the International Collaborative Research Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease. The strategy aims to give Canadians rapid access to the latest approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias," Joanette said.

"The findings by Dr Jhamandas could eventually help reduce the personal, social and economic impacts for Alzheimer’s disease."

Image: University of Alberta medical researcher Jack Jhamandas. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Alberta.