Common painkiller may help reverse Alzheimer's-related memory loss

An anti-inflammatory drug commonly used to treat pain associated from menstrual cramps may be able to reverse memory loss linked to Alzheimer's disease, new research shows.

Researchers with the University of Manchester in England gave mefenamic acid, which is used to reduce mild pain, to a group of 10 mice genetically modified to develop Alzheimer's over the course of one month. Another group of mice received a placebo.

After the month was over, researchers found the memory levels of mice treated with mefenamic acid returned to normal, mirroring mice that were Alzheimer's-free.

Mefenamic acid targets a “pro-inflammatory” pathway that's known to damage brain cells, researchers said.

“There is experimental evidence now to strongly suggest that inflammation in the brain makes Alzheimer's disease worse," said lead researcher David Brough, Ph.D. “Until now, no drug has been available to target this pathway, so we are very excited by this result.”

Brough noted that while the findings are promising, mefenamic acid carries side effects and should be studied in humans before it is endorsed as an Alzheimer's treatment. The fact that the drug is already available and the side are effects are known could be a positive sign that the treatment may reach patients quicker than “if we were developing completely new drugs,” he added.

Results of the study appear in Nature Communications.