Drugs designed to treat depression and cancer could be "repurposed" to help reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases.
Researchers found the drugs, an antidepressant and an anti-cancer compound, restored protein production in the brains of laboratory mice.
They were found to prevent brain damage caused by prion disorders such as Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, and dementia.
Project leader Professor Giovanna Mallucci said a clinical trial is now possible to find out if the protective effects seen in mice are replicated in humans.
The antidepressant in the study is called trazodone hydrochloride and the anti-cancer compound is dibenzoylmethane.
We could know in two to three years whether this approach can slow down disease progression, which would be a very exciting first step in treating these disorders, he said.
Interestingly, trazodone has been used to treat the symptoms of patients in later stages of dementia, so we know it is safe for this group.
We now need to find out whether giving the drug to patients at an early stage could help arrest or slow down the disease through its effects on this pathway, he added.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: We’re excited by the potential of these findings.
They show that a treatment approach originally discovered in mice with prion disease might also work to prevent the death of brain cells in some forms of dementia.
But neuropathologist Dr Payam Rezaie, from the Open University, warned: This is not a cure for neurodegenerative diseases or dementia, it will not reverse the course of illness, and the neuroprotective effects were observed in the majority of, but not in all experimental animals.
The results appear in the journal Brain.
Earlier this year, former prime minister David Cameron called for more funding to beat dementia, two years after he he announced £300m would be spent on research by 2025.
The Office for National Statistics said in November that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease had become the leading cause of death in England and Wales for the first time.