(Bloomberg) -- Amid the many drug failures for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found that one older class of medicines might offer some hope, although just how much is still unclear.

The treatments, part of a drug family that includes the antidepressant Cymbalta, helped patients with apathy in a so-called meta analysis -- an overview of 10 clinical trials that can guide scientists in deciding whether it’s worth pursuing further research. There was also a small impact on cognition, which scientists who reviewed the study said was probably not clinically relevant.  

Multiple failures in the field have left Alzheimer’s patients and their families with few options to slow the memory-robbing disease and prompted scientists to look at whether existing medicines could be repurposed for the disease. 

The researchers from Imperial College London looked at treatments called noradrenergic because they regulate the brain chemical noradrenaline, which plays a role in arousal and alertness. Doctors didn’t pick those drugs by accident: noradrenergic dysfunction tends to occur early in Alzheimer’s. 

Only the effect on apathy can be considered significant, but a more targeted clinical trial might garner different results.

The study “highlights the potential of noradrenergic drugs to treat some aspects of Alzheimer’s, but the evidence in the trials reviewed here varies in quality and it’s hard to directly compare results,” Rosa Sancho, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in remarks to the country’s Science Media Center. She wasn’t involved in the research and called for “well-conducted clinical trials” on the matter, as did the study’s authors. 

Another researcher, Erik Cobo, a statistician and physician at the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, raised questions about the review and called for “a very careful reanalysis of the results.” 

The findings were published Wednesday in the BMJ’s Journal of Neurology & Psychiatry. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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