UTMB Study Suggests Immune Drugs Might Help Fight Dementia

Researchers at The University of Texas Medical Branch have uncovered a promising connection between certain immune-suppressing drugs and a lower risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. This research could impact how these devastating brain disorders are treated.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and severe form of neurodegenerative dementia, for which there is no cure. The study, published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease looked at how drugs like tacrolimus and cyclosporine affect the chances of dementia in a diverse group of people. This extends a previous study assessing the incidence of dementia on a limited cohort of UTMB patients and offers further hope for those facing dementia.

"Our research offers renewed hope for individuals at risk of dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease,” said Jacqueline Silva, first author on the study and graduate student in the Michell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Department of Neurology at UTMB. “We've identified preventative measures and a potential treatment approach using drugs already on the market. This sets the stage for new pathways in further research."

Silva points out that repurposing FDA approved drugs represents an appealing approach for drug development, as the three prescriptions in the study have already passed rigorous safety testing and proven tolerable in humans.

The study looked at electronic health records from over 125,000 adults aged 65 and older. Among them, 74,555 were prescribed calcineurin inhibitors. The average age of the group was 75.9 years, and nearly half of them were women. Findings show that people prescribed these immunosuppressants had a lower risk of getting dementia compared to others not taking these drugs. It didn't matter which immunosuppressants they were on—all showed a reduced risk, but when compared to each other, the calcineurin inhibitor, tacrolimus, seemed to be the most effective.

“The study helps us gain insight into the potential mechanisms by which calcineurin inhibitors reduce dementia prevalence,” said Silva, “opening up a therapeutic avenue that can bring hope to millions of families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.”

Authors of the study also include Dr. Giulio Taglialatela, director of the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Dr. Daniel Jupiter, associate professor at the Department of Biostatistics & Data Science at UTMB.