A team of researchers in the UK have found drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could halve the risk of developing dementia.
Led by Professor Chris Edwards, the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, along with the University of Oxford, conducted an observational study using the records of nearly 6,000 people living with arthritis across the UK over a 15-year period.
Comparing patients who took disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs to those who did not, the findings, published in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Intervention journal, found 3% of people who were not taking anti-rheumatic medications developed dementia, but people who were taking the anti-inflammatory drugs had about half the risk, with only 1.5% developing dementia in the same timeframe.
As dementia and arthritis share the characteristic feature of inflammation, researchers are interested in studying whether existing drugs can offer benefits to the treatment of dementia, especially as developed medications also offer quicker access to those who need them.
Alzheimer’s Society UK is prioritising this approach to research and is funding a study to assess whether arthritis drugs can reduce dementia risk. Although it was not possible to solely attribute the success of the observational study to the use of anti-rheumatic drugs, researchers were sufficiently encouraged by these results to pursue pathways to a clinical study.
Dr Bernadette McGuiness and the team at Queen’s University Belfast are building upon the observational study, looking at a group of drugs for arthritis that address the kind of inflammation known to be present in Alzheimer’s disease. Early indications show that TNF inhibitors – the family of medications that block the activity of an inflammation causing substance common in rheumatoid arthritis and other immune-system diseases – have a promising effect in slowing the decline of thinking skills.
Success in the Queen’s University Belfast study would pave the way for an eventual clinical trial to test whether TNF inhibitors can slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Despite the promising signs of the observational study, it is recommended that people living with dementia seek advice from their medical practitioners before making any changes to their care, and only take medications that they are prescribed.