Common blood pressure medication may be repurposed to treat dementia and Parkinson’s

A promising new study led by scientists at the University of Cambridge has discovered a common drug used to treat high blood pressure may also be beneficial for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and dementia. The research has only been verified in animal studies at this time but the scientists are cautiously optimistic it will translate to human subjects.

Repurposing older, already approved drugs for new uses is perhaps one of the more efficient medical research strategies. These drugs have already moved through expensive and onerous trials to establish human safety profiles, so it can be a much faster process to newfound clinical uses.

This new research began by screening existing approved drugs for indications they can induce a process known as autophagy. This natural cellular mechanism is like the body’s automated recycling system, clearing out dysfunctional or toxic materials. One of the hallmarks for many neurodegenerative diseases is the build-up of toxic proteins in the brain causing irreversible neuronal damage.

In these cases, the body’s autophagy mechanism seems to be impaired.

The new study homed in on one drug in particular for its ability to induce autophagy and cross the blood-brain barrier. Felodipine is a common hypertension medication and was originally approved for clinical use in the late 1980s, so it has several decades of long-term human administration proving it is safe.

The researchers tested the efficacy of felodipine to induce autophagy in several different animal models, including mice with Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, plus a zebrafish model for dementia. The results were extraordinarily positive across all experiments. The drug was effective in inducing autophagy and in enhancing the clearance of toxic proteins across all animal models.