A new drug developed by scientists at the University of Queensland could be used to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia in people with those illnesses.
The research, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, used an elephant ear fungus to treat people with mild forms of the diseases, including mild cognitive impairment, mild Parkinson’s disease, and mild cognitive decline.
Elephants’ ear fungus also inhibits the body’s immune system and may be more effective than existing drugs in treating mild cognitive disability, but not dementia, said the research team led by Dr David Dickson.
The findings may help improve treatments for people with the two main types of Alzheimer’s – mild cognitive dysfunction and mild dementia.
Dr Dickson said the work could lead to the development of drugs that could be given intravenously or via injection.
“This could be useful for patients who are not getting much, if any, benefit from current therapies,” he said.
“We are hopeful that we can do this in the near future.”
The research team studied a fungus known as Amoruba amaranthae that was used to make earplugs in the 1960s.
Researchers found that using this fungus to prevent infection by fungi also reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in people who were already suffering from mild cognitive impairments.
“It is a very important finding that this fungus is able to treat mild cognitive impaired people with less disease than a lot of other fungi, which is a really big deal,” Dr Dickson explained.
“Our findings could potentially be useful in other settings too, which could be really useful in treating people with cognitive impairment.”
He said it was not clear if the fungus could be developed to treat dementia.
“In general, fungi are very good at removing toxins from the body.
We are hoping that this is a potential route for further development of our fungus,” he explained.
Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Science and Technology (QIST) and the Queensland Research Council (QRC) collaborated on the study.
The researchers used the fungus to make an anti-fungal cocktail called amantadine.
Amantadines inhibit the body from making toxins, so they are known to be effective in treating Alzheimer’s.
Dr John Rennie, a neuroscientist at QIST, said research using amantads could lead the way for drug development to be more cost-effective.
“The key question is, can we develop drugs that are less toxic, that are also safe and are also less toxic than traditional drugs,” Dr Rennies said.
The Queensland Research Commission funded the research.
Dr Renni said there were concerns that the research could be too expensive for people.
“A lot of people have a lot to lose if we can’t get a good, cheap treatment that is effective for people, because of the costs involved, and I think that is a real concern,” he told ABC Radio Brisbane.
“For the people that are going to be using this for Alzheimer’s, this is probably a good option.”
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