The search for a drug that can stop or reverse the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease has been riddled with setbacks in recent years. But new research suggests a potential advance from an unexpected source: an already approved pill currently prescribed to treat fluid retention associated with heart failure, kidney disease and other common conditions.
In a study published this week in the journal Nature Aging, the diuretic bumetanide was shown to reverse signs of Alzheimer’s in mice that carried a genetic risk factor for the disease, as well as in human brain cells in the lab. What’s more, an analysis of health records revealed that older adults who took bumetanide were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those on a different diuretic.
“Though further tests and clinical trials are needed, this research underscores the value of big data-driven tactics combined with more traditional scientific approaches to identify existing FDA-approved drugs as candidates for drug repurposing to treat Alzheimer’s disease,” National Institutes on Aging (NIA) Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D., said in a statement.
Isolating a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease
The federally funded research focused its analysis on a specific population: those with a genetic variant known as APOE4. While scientists don’t fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, they do know some people are more likely than others to develop it based on their genetic makeup.
The APOE gene in particular is involved in making a protein that helps carry cholesterol and other types of fat in the bloodstream. It comes in at least three different variations, and one of them, called APOE4, increases a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s. While not everyone who carries APOE4 gets Alzheimer’s, an estimated 40 to 65 percent of those diagnosed with the disease have at least one copy of the gene variation (also called an allele), according to the Alzheimer’s Association.