The study screened 1040 compounds, including hundreds of drugs that are already approved to treat other conditions, and found 2 with the potential to protect brain cells.
When tested in mouse models of dementia, Trazodone (a drug used to treat depression) and Dibenzoylmethane (a compound with similar properties to curcumin) both prevented brain cell damage and restored memory.
Drug repurposing involves finding drugs that are already approved and in use, and testing their potential to treat other conditions.
This method of finding new treatments could make them available much more easily, quickly and cheaply.
In this study, the researchers were interested in repurposing drugs that target a pathway – called the PERK pathway – that is known to be involved in both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Researchers have previously developed a drug called GSK2606414 that targeted PERK and could protect brain cells, but the drug had negative side effects.
As Trazodone is used to treat people with late stage dementia, repurposing this drug means the researchers already know that it is safe for people to take.
A major step forward
Dr David Dexter, Deputy Director of Research at Parkinson's UK, comments:
"Currently there is no way to slow the loss of cells in conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
"If these studies can be replicated in human clinical trials, both Trazodone hydrochloride and Dibenzoylmethane could represent a major step forward in the development of therapies that slow the progression of these conditions."