Russian Drug May Be Breakthrough for Alzheimer's Patients
What is the history of this drug known as Dimebon?
Originally created to combat hay fever and first discovered in 1983, Dimebon was first sold in Russia as an antihistamine. Dimebon was later discarded when better treatments hit the market, but according to news sources, interest in the drug was rekindled when lab tests conducted a few years back at the Russian Academy of Sciences, discovered that Dimebon had a protective effect on brain cells.
Who funded the research on Dimebon and how was it conducted?
An entrepreneurial company located in San Francisco funded a year-long study on the effects of Dimebon. At first, the study was limited to lab animals and a small-scale trial on humans, but scientists have now carried out a trial involving 155 patients at 11 Russian sites diagnosed with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's. The patients were either given a dose of Dimebon three times a day or a harmless look-alike pill (placebo) and they were assessed according to a special scale that evaluates memories and cognitive abilities. Another assessment occurred after six months on this regimen, after which 134 of them took part in another final 26-week extension and subsequent evaluation. According to researchers:
“The Dimebon group significantly improved compared to the start of the experiment, while the placebo group showed clear deterioration.”
What does this mean for Alzheimer’s patients?
Alzheimer’s is characterized by a death of brain cells, which occurs as the result of build up of toxic plaques and tangled proteins. This accumulation causes forgetfulness, mood swings, dementia and eventually, death. For the more than 25 million sufferers of Alzheimer’s world wide, there is no cure. There are some moderately effective treatments that are known to have side effects.
Lead researcher in the trial is Rachelle Doody, of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Centre at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. She has had to fight doubt about Dimebon within the medical community due to the unusual way in which the drug was rediscovered. She and others involved are cautious about claiming the extent of Dimebon’s effectiveness until they see how it performs against existing treatment in clinical trials. At this point, Dimebon treats symptoms of the disease like other drugs but not the underlying cause.
Dimebon is not a cure for Alzheimer’s but it is another light, however dim, at the end of a long and very dark tunnel.
Like that old film, Dimebon may well be a gift from Russia with love.