A drug formerly used for depression could be a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, a study suggests.
Trazodone was shown to reduce brain shrinkage in early tests – and as it has already been proven safe for humans, it could be on the market in two years.
Research found the drug prevented brain damage in mice suffering from dementia, but its effectiveness in humans has yet to be shown.
Trazodone was discovered in the Sixties, but is rarely used for depression now more modern drugs are available.
An anti-cancer drug called dibenzoylmethane was also found to help reduce brain shrinkage in mice.
The drugs block a natural defence mechanism in cells which is overactive in the brains of patients with a range of degenerative conditions.
Professor Giovanna Mallucci led the team from the Medical Research Council’s Toxicology Unit in Leicester, along with Cambridge University.
He said: ‘We know that trazodone is safe to use in humans, so a clinical trial is now possible to test whether the protective effects of the drug we see on brain cells in mice with neurodegeneration also applies to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.’
She said trazodone had already been used for some patients with advanced dementia, and further work is needed to see if it could help slow the illness at an early stage.
Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society charity described the findings, reported in the journal Brain, as ‘exciting’.