Alzheimer's Could One Day Be Treated With Common Drug, Study in Mice Suggests

Aspirin could be used to slow Alzheimer's disease, scientists believe. Getty Images

Aspirin could be used to treat Alzheimer's disease, a new study has suggested.

Currently, the cause of Alzheimer's disease is unknown, and researchers are scrambling to find a way to prevent and treat the most common form of dementia.

The research hones in on how the body deals with amyloid beta. Scientists believe the build-up of this plaque in a part of the brain called the hippocampus could lead to Alzheimer's disease. Scientists therefore want to understand whether helping the brain to clear amyloid beta could slow the development of the disease.

Previous studies have suggested taking aspirin could reduce the risk and prevalence of Alzheimer's. Building on this research, the team at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago tested the common drug in mice with a condition comparable to Alzheimer's in humans.

Aspirin is currently used to treat fever and ease mild to moderate pain. It is also prescribed in low doses to prevent blood clots that can cause strokes and heart attacks.

The researchers behind the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, investigated how aspirin affects the part of animal cells that clears cellular debris like amyloid beta. Known as lysosomes, these organelles contain a range of enzymes capable of breaking down molecules. This process, known as cellular homeostasis, helps to regulate enzymes that degrade cells. In turn, lysosomes which don't do their job properly have been linked to neurodegenerative disorders.

In the study on mice, researchers found aspirin could stimulate lysosomes, and that a low does of the drug could slow the development of the condition.

But as the study was in mice, researchers will now need to continue studying the link to prove it can be replicated in humans.

Related: Alzheimer's markers linked to high sugar, high fat foods in study on mice

This is the latest study to investigate the potential uses of aspirin with Alzheimer's disease: a line of inquiry that hasn't always produced promising results.

Rob Howard, a professor of Old Age Psychiatry at University College London who was not involved in the study, said it was well conducted.

However, he argued: "Before anyone gets too excited about the implications for treatments in people, I would remind readers of two points. First, mice don't get Alzheimer's disease and we have learned the bitter lesson from many studies in the field that what 'works' in the mouse models of the disease has not yet worked in our patients.

"Second, clinical trials of aspirin have already been performed in patients with Alzheimer's disease. The drug had no beneficial effects on outcome measures and was associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal hemorrhage."

Peter Passmore, professor of aging and geriatric medicine at Queen's University Belfast, described the study as "interesting."

"There have been suggestions that aspirin may be beneficial in Alzheimer's disease so it is interesting to see these results in an animal model," said Passmore, who was not involved in the study. "As the authors say this finding needs a lot more research as the results are not conclusive. It will take quite a bit of further research before studies would be done in the appropriate patient group."

He stressed that as aspirin has also been associated with an increased risk of intracerebral hemorrhage in patients with Alzheimer's, "it is important that patients do not start to self-medicate with aspirin in the hope of preventing or mitigating Alzheimer's."