If new research in mice bears out in humans, the daily low-dose aspirin many people take to keep heart trouble at bay might also protect their brains against Alzheimer's.
Scientists report aspirin appeared to help clear out plaques of waste material called amyloid beta in the brain. Those plaques are a major sign of Alzheimer's disease.
"The results of our study identifies a possible new role for one of the most widely used, common, over-the-counter medications in the world," said senior study author Kalipada Pahan, chair of neurology at Rush Medical College, in Chicago.
More research needed
Previous research has shown a link between aspirin and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. In this study, the scientists gave low-dose aspirin for a month to genetically modified mice with a form of Alzheimer's disease.
The aspirin helped reduce amyloid plaques by boosting a protein called TFEB, a regulator of waste removal, and by stimulating lysosomes, a part of cells that help clear waste. But not all research in animals holds true for humans.
Still, "understanding how plaques are cleared is important to developing effective drugs that stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease," said Pahan.
"This research study adds another potential benefit to aspirin's already established uses for pain relief and for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases," he added in a Rush University news release.
"More research needs to be completed, but the findings of our study have major potential implications for the therapeutic use of aspirin in Alzheimer's and other dementia-related illnesses," Pahan said.
Alzheimer's disease affects up to one in 10 Americans aged 65 or older. Only a few drugs are approved for the treatment of Alzheimer's and those medications provide limited relief.
The study was published in the July issue of The Journal of Neuroscience and its findings can change the way Alzheimer's disease is treated.
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