The researchers gave their test flies drugs that theoretically would block the genetic pathways that allow Alzheimer's to take root. Some of the drugs were experimental; one, lithium, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in humans.
The investigators found that these drugs prevented the onset of memory and learning loss in the flies, and also allowed them to recover some of their memory deficits.
"The results suggest there is a window of time when the loss of cognition is reversible through pharmacological treatment," Jongens said. "Maybe there's a window of time in human patients where these pharmacological treatments might have efficacy."
The results cannot automatically be used to recommend treatment in humans. Jongens believes that testing on mice is the next logical step. And after that, human clinical trials could be considered.
But the fact that lithium worked as a means of halting this form of Alzheimer's is a very hopeful finding, he said.
"One might think that would be a drug you would want to start trying immediately in humans, since it is FDA-approved," Jongens said. "It's interesting that it worked in the fly, and it suggests it should be looked at in careful studies."
The Alzheimer's Association has more on Alzheimer's disease research.
SOURCES: Laurie Tompkins, Ph.D., chief, Genetic Mechanisms Branch, Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology, U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Bethesda, Md.; Thomas A. Jongens, Ph.D., associate professor, genetics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia
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