New class of drugs could treat Alzheimer's

We have written often about the blood-brain barrier, evolution's ironic way of both protecting our brains from disease and preventing their cures. Researchers are always on the lookout for bypasses and alternate routes beyond that barrier to cure diseases that effect the brain, like Alzheimer's. Well, researchers at Penn, writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, think they've found their way in with a new class of drug. According to the researchers, the epothilone class, and in particular epothilone D, "readily entered and persisted in the brain."

"The positive effect of epothilone D on the function of axons and on cognition, without the onset of side-effects offers hope that this class of microtubule-stabilizing drugs could progress to testing in Alzheimer patients in the near future," says Virginia M.-Y. Lee, director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, in a news release.

In the normal brain, the protein tau plays an important role in stabilizing structures called microtubules in nerve cells that serve as tracks upon which cellular material is transported. In Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, tau becomes insoluble and forms clumps in the brain.

For the epothilones, we can thank our sea friends the sponges. The microtubule-stabilizing drugs are derived from marine sponges and have been used as anti-cancer drugs because they prevent cells from dividing.

- read the release