GALVESTON, Texas, June 8 (UPI) -- A drug that suppresses the immune system to prevent transplant patient's bodies from rejecting their new organs may prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers made the discovery while reviewing data that showed that dementia and Alzheimer's occur among transplant patients at much lower rates than in the general population.
Calcineurin, an enzyme that regulates communication between brain cells and memory formation, plays a major role in the formation of toxic protein aggregates that target and disrupt the brain cells responsible for memory among Alzheimer's patients.
"These data clearly show that the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's in our transplant patient group is significantly lower, in fact almost absent, when compared to national data from the general population," Luca Cicalese, a professor in the department of surgery, said in a press release.
Calcineurin inhibitor-based medications, such as Tacrolimus or cyclosporine, are taken by transplant recipients to suppress the immune system and prevent rejection of the new organs. Researchers must still find a way to block calcineurin, potentially benefitting Alzheimer's patients, without affecting the immune system.
"We are currently working on devising treatment strategies to obtain the same beneficial effects in AD humans using low doses of calcineurin inhibitors that result in minimal or no immunosuppression, thus limiting possible undesired side effects," said Giulio Taglialatela, Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the department of neurology and director of UTMB's Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases.