(CN) - An experimental cancer drug has shown signs of helping in the battle against Alzheimer's disease, the National Institutes of Health reported Tuesday.
A team of Yale University scientists discovered that the drug, saracatinib, reverses brain problems and restores memory loss in mouse models of Alzheimer's.
"Now the researchers are testing saracatinib's effectiveness in humans," the NIH said in a statement.
Alzheimer's disease afflicts about 5 million Americans by causing the buildup of protein clumps in the brain, killing brain cells.
The disease also leads to the loss of synapses, the spaces between brain cells, leading to memory loss.
Steven Strittmatter and his research team used the AstraZeneca drug saracatinib because it targets a certain protein in its use against cancer. The same protein plays a role in the clustering that affects brain cells.
The mice used in the four-week study showed a reversal of their memory loss and spatial learning. A study of their brains showed that their synapse loss had been restored.
The study began 18 months after this idea came to fruition, rather than the usual 10 years, because the drug had already been studied in animals, and tested for safety in humans.
This was part of the Developing New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules program, which matches scientists with drugs that have already undergone the required tests.
"It's a great example of how scientists from industry and academia can synergistically work together to push the boundaries of medical science," Craig Wegner, head of the Boston Emerging Innovations Unit, said in a statement.
Over the next two years, the Yale research team will test 152 patients, who will receive saracatinib or a placebo for a year.
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