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Posted: July 22, 2008

Alzheimer's May Respond to Outdated Allergy Med, Scientists Say

An outdated allergy treatment popular a quarter century ago in Russia may find a new use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers say.


The British medical journal The Lancet reports that a study conducted in Russia found that Alzheimer’s patients who were treated with the drug Dimebon showed significant improvement in their thought processing during a year-long period, when compared to patients who were given a placebo.


Dimebon was originally designed as an antihistamine for use by allergy sufferers in Russia but was withdrawn when it was overtaken by more modern drugs. It reached its height of popularity during the 1980s.


But now, researchers say Dimebon is the first drug to yield year-long improvement in those with Alzheimer's.


"In this study, Dimebon improved the clinical course of Alzheimer's disease, which is important given that the natural course is progressive deterioration over time," lead study author, Dr. Rachelle Doody, of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a statement.


She added: "The results of this trial suggest that, if the findings are replicated, Dimebon could advance Alzheimer's treatment, offering more hope for patients and their caregivers."


In the study, researchers monitored thinking and memory ability, overall function, psychiatric and behavioral symptoms and the ability to perform daily activities in 183 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course, the researchers observed improvement in all of these aspects of the patients' lives.


The patients’ symptoms were assessed throughout using a cognitive scale to test a patient's ability to track dates, ability to understand instructions, follow commands, memorize a list of words, and perform simple tasks such as copying drawings or addressing an envelope.


The scientists said they believe Dimebon works by stabilizing mitochondria, the parts of cells that produce energy. They also think that the drug slows or inhibits the death of brain cells.


The findings, however, are not without drawbacks. For one, Dimebon is not widely available outside of Russia. Also, the scope of the trial was limited, and a much larger study would need to be undertaken to validate the reported successes. On this latter point, Doody said the next phase of this study will expand the participant pool to include several international locations, including the United States.


In an accompanying commentary published in The Lancet, Professor Alistair Burns, of the Psychiatry Research Group at the University of Manchester, UK, and Professor Robin Jacoby, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: "Addition of treatment options is good news for patients and clinicians -- it promotes choice and offers the possibility of bespoke treatment packages which maximize the chances of response.


"Doody and colleagues' trial shows that Dimebon is better than placebo, which is no mean feat considering the positive placebo responses in dementia."

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