An experimental drug candidate aimed to treat Alzheimer’s disease has resulted to anti-aging effects in animals, a new study finds.

Salk Institute researchers have found that the drug, called J147, targets Alzheimer’s major risk factor, which is old age. In an experiment, the team observed that when mouse models were treated with J147, they had better memory and cognition, healthier blood vessels in the brain and other improved physiological features.

“Initially, the impetus was to test this drug in a novel animal model that was more similar to 99 percent of Alzheimer's cases. We did not predict we’d see this sort of anti-aging effect, but J147 made old mice look like they were young, based upon a number of physiological parameters,” says Antonio Currais, the study’s lead author and a member of Professor David Schubert’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk.

In their study, which appeared in the journal Aging, the researchers used three groups of the rapidly aging mice. This included one set that was young, one set that was old and one set that was old but fed J147 as they aged.

The researchers found that the old mice treated with J147 performed better on memory and other tests for cognition, as well as displayed more robust motor movements. The set was also observed to have fewer pathological signs of Alzheimer's in their brains.

Since there was a large amount of data collected on the three groups of mice, the researchers were able to demonstrate that many aspects of gene expression and metabolism in the old mice fed J147 were very similar to those of young animals. These included markers for increased energy metabolism, reduced brain inflammation and reduced levels of oxidised fatty acids in the brain.

The team also notes that J147 prevented the leakage of blood from the microvessels in the brains of old mice. “Damaged blood vessels are a common feature of aging in general, and in Alzheimer's, it is frequently much worse,” says Currais.

Currais and his team note that while these studies represent a new and exciting approach to Alzheimer’s drug discovery and animal testing in the context of aging, the only way to demonstrate the clinical relevance of the work is to move J147 into human clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease.

“If proven safe and effective for Alzheimer’s, the apparent anti-aging effect of J147 would be a welcome benefit,” says Schubert, senior author of the study. The team aims to begin human trials next year.

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder, is the most common form of dementia. In Australia, it accounts for about two thirds of dementia cases, and is considered a serious health burden. While current treatments can help with memory and thinking problems, depression and sleep disturbances, there is no direct cure for the disease.

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