A study showed promising results on a drug that can improve the brain's immune system to prevent the development Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers at Duke University experimented on mice for the study. They observed that during the onset of Alzheimer's disease, the microglia or the immune cells that protect the brain from infection start to consume arginine. Arginine is a nutrient that helps improve blood flow and stimulate the release of growth hormone, insulin and other substances in the body.
The team developed a drug called fluoromethylornithine (DFMO) to block the immune cells from consuming arginine. The drug was able to prevent the formation of plaques in the brain, which are linked to memory loss. The mice also performed well on the memory test.
"If indeed arginine consumption is so important to the disease process, maybe we could block it and reverse the disease," Carol Colton, study senior author and professor of neurology at Duke University School of Medicine, said in a news release.
Although the mice used in the experiment were genetically modified to have similar immune systems to humans, the drug is not yet tested on humans. The researchers also clarified that they do not recommend the use of arginine supplements to lower one's risk of dementia.
"All of this suggests to us that if you can block this local process of amino acid deprivation, then you can protect - the mouse, at least - from Alzheimer's disease," said Matthew Kan, an M.D./Ph.D. student in Colton's lab.
The findings of the study received positive feedback from the Alzheimer Society. To date, there is no approved treatment for the disease that affects nearly 44 million people worldwide.
"Blocking the use of arginine reduced some of the disease hallmarks and improved memory performance, offering hope that these findings could lead to new treatments for dementia," James Pickett from the Alzheimer's Society said to Mirror UK.
The study was published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.