Posted on August 6, 2011 by

Memantine, one of the drugs presently used to treat Alzheimer’s disease is re-purposed, originally developed as an anti-influenza drug. It is a different kind of  Alzheimer’s treatment, used to protect the neurons from damage through its affect on Glutamate, a major neurotransmitter critical to communication between nerve cells in the brain. Researchers think that when Glutamate signaling gets disrupted, the cells are injured and eventually die. Memantine prevents this. Stuart Lipton M.D. PhD of the Del Webb Center for Neuroscience in LaJolla California says that he really discovered the drug’s benefits to Alzheimer’s patients by serendipity. While he was on sabbatical from the Harvard Medical school, he traveled to the Max-Plank Institute for Brain research in Frankfurt Germany. His colleague was working on the drug there, which was being developed for influenza and also for Parkinson’s disease. Lipton was able to figure out a mechanism of action for the drug within the cells and began more intense research on potential uses in Alzheimer’s. Lipton adopts the view that Alzheimer’s Disease is a disorder of the synapses, the connections between nerve cells. He says the research shows that the only correlation between cognitive decline and the disease is the loss of synapses, not the plaques and tangles seen in the brain as part of the disorder. Memantine protects the synapse and his hope is that if a way can be found to keep the nerve cells alive until a better treatment is found, the disease can be managed.
Presently, by the time Alzheimer’s Disease is diagnosed 80% of the nerve cells are already lost. Lipton and his co-workers are also developing new derivatives of Memantine combining it with nitroglycerine to make it work even more effectively.
That the drug being repurposed is not new to this drug. Some of the most effective drugs are found by happenstance when doctors report beneficial side effects or when a researcher just happens to take a look at a drug in use for another purpose. Some believe that the pace of this serendipity can be enhanced significantly via the use of data mining information from the internet on the uses and derivative benefits of existing drugs.Imagine that a data mining sweep of the net detected the uses of Memantine in Parkinson’s disease, including the potential effects it might have on the cell structures.  Is it possible that Dr. Lipton or other researcher might have been directed to this new class of drugs? Much may depend on the level of sophistication of the semantic searches and knowledge of existing mechanisms of action as well as the interest of researchers in the data. Query what does dr. Lipton think? For more on data mining disease cures read

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