Research on skin cancer drug shows possible benefit in Alzheimer’s

We’ve had some exciting news broke today about a new study that found an FDA-approved drug for a form of skin cancer might prove to be an effective treatment against Alzheimer’s disease. We’re a long way from knowing if it will actually work as an Alzheimer’s therapy, but this study is promising – so promising that the Alzheimer’s Association will be funding the next step in understanding the mechanisms behind the study.

First, some background”¦

Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells. Though most people develop some plaques as they age, those with Alzheimer’s tend to develop far more. It is strongly suspected that plaques somehow play a critical role in blocking communication among nerve cells and disrupting processes that cells need to survive.

Bexarotene is used to treat a form of skin cancer. Previous research showed that this drug stimulates expression of a protein called apoE, which helps with the degradation of beta amyloid.

The Claim

In this study, scientists conducted a trial in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease of bexarotene, with the goal of enhancing clearance of beta amyloid from the brain by increasing levels of ApoE protein. The scientists found that the orally-administered drug rapidly lowered levels of soluble beta amyloid and amyloid plaques in both young and older test animals, and also improved some cognitive and behavioral deficits.

The methodology

Scientists orally administered the bexarotene to mouse models that had been bred with Alzheimer’s disease. They then observed changes in mouse behavior and the levels of beta amyloid in the brain after delivery of the drug.

Beyond the headline

This is very exciting stuff! Investigating an already FDA-reviewed and -approved therapy may mean that the drug development process takes a somewhat shorter time because the drug has already been tested in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. As a result, we already know a lot about the drug and its side effects, though, in this case, it is in cancer populations, not Alzheimer’s disease. So there is still a great deal to learn. For example, without trials in people with Alzheimer’s, we know nothing yet about dose levels or how this compound may interact with other Alzheimer’s drugs.

It’s also important to remember this study of bexarotene is in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Mouse models of Alzheimer’s are limited in how closely they represent human Alzheimer’s, and mice are not people; so, we are still far away from knowing if this has potential as a therapy for people with Alzheimer’s.

The bottom line

This study is very preliminary. People with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers should not ask their doctor for this drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association awarded the senior scientist on this article, Gary Landreth of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, its prestigious Zenith Award in 2011 for research that will follow on from this study to investigate the mechanism of action of this compound. The goal is to further illuminate how and why it works in the way described in the Science Express article, perhaps setting the stage for trials in people – so stay tuned for more on this!

For more information on the latest news and developments in Alzheimer’s research, visit

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15 Responses

  1. janice konnick says:

    would defently volunteer for clinical trials.

  2. janice konnick says:

    will volunteer

    • pguinto says:

      Hi Janice, just wanted to send you a link to TrialMatch:
      This is a free service that makes it easy for people with Alzheimer’s, caregivers, families and physicians to locate clinical trials based on personal criteria (diagnosis, stage of disease) and location. I do not know when or if there will be studies related to this particular cancer drug, but this is a good clearinghouse for the opportunities available. As always, you can contact someone at the Alzheimer’s Association at anytime, day or night at 800.272.3900 with your questions.

  3. donut says:

    With a life expectancy of 5 or 6 years why would I not try this??

  4. texasron says:

    We already know that people can safely take this drug. I hope that a trial begins soon to determine what dosage may or may not provide a treatment for Alzheimers. Time should not be wasted.

  5. Donna Cole says:

    My husband is fifty three and suffers from Alzheimers. Would be willing to try.

  6. charlie says:

    Certainly some of the cancer patients treated have had alzheimers; can any information be gleaned from that subset of cancer treatments?

    • Gourav says:

      Oh I love this post. My grandfather past away from Alzheimers when I was a jniour in high school. He battled with it for 11 years and I know how it is a really difficult disease for everyone involved. Good luck on your meal and bravo for keeping her spirit of cooking alive.

  7. fred steinkirchner says:

    the information that charley ask fornamely cancer patients treated have had alzheimers is very important .hopefully it will be announced soon.

  8. lolita dela cruz says:

    my husband is suffering from alzheimers. would definitely be willing to try. thank you so much.

  9. David Austin says:

    I enjoyed your article. Please pass by and visit my project. David http//

  10. Abi says:

    Modern science and tecgoolnhy are constantly developing. New diseases are also coming out without a second’s hesitation!But it’s just a coincidence of Yin&Yang balance thoery by Lao Zi(the great philosopher during Chinese Spring and Autumn Period).

  11. jennifer says:

    since science doesn’t prove yet that this bexarotene can really cure an alzheimer’s disease, we are still not in capable in using bexarotene as a cure in alzheimer’s disease. this drug can only cure a skin disease for now. but soon enough if it is already proven that it can really cure an alzheimer’s disease it would still costs too expensive. Those who take it for cancer use 4-10 pills a day depending on their height and weight, general health and type of cancer being treated.

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