The findings are still a long way from medical reality. But test-tube and animal studies show that Gleevec fights the main ingredient in the brain plaque seen in Alzheimer's disease. William J. Netzer, PhD, of Rockefeller University, and colleagues report the findings in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We have provided ... evidence of another therapeutic approach to Alzheimer's disease," the researchers report. "The safety of Gleevec [and it's successful use in cancer treatment] make this class of compounds attractive."
Netzer and colleagues note that beta amyloid is the main ingredient of the plaque that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. The body needs a key enzyme to make this plaque -- and Gleevec throws a monkey wrench into this process.
The researchers showed that the drug keeps cells from making beta amyloid. They also showed that the drug reduces beta amyloid in the guinea pig brain.
Gleevec is used to treat a form of leukemia. Its relative safety in humans gives it a head start on the road to clinical use. But it will take extra safety studies in animals before the treatment can be tested in people with Alzheimer's disease.