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Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 23:53 GMT 00:53 UK
Leprosy drug used against Alzheimer's
Child with leprosy
The drug used to treat leprosy sufferers may control brain disease
Trials among Alzheimer's disease patients of a drug more commonly used to fight Aids and leprosy are expected to start this year.

The drug dapsone - which is more than 40 years old - is used to control some of the inflammation associated with the crippling disease.

Doctors working in leper colonies in Japan noticed that their patients on dapsone appeared far less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, the incurable and progressive degenerative brain disease.

Their work among 3,700 leprosy patients given the drug has excited Alzheimer's experts.

Canadian biotech company Immune Network Research said on Tuesday that it expected to begin trials of the drug as a treatment for Alzheimer's in South Africa later this year.

It is also trying to launch similar trials in Poland, Brazil and Israel.

The company is trying to reformulate the drug to enhance its potential Alzheimer-fighting properties.

Reducing inflammation

Immune Network President Allen Bain told Reuters news agency that the drug might help reduce the inflammation associated with Alzheimer's.

He said: "There's a huge increase in Alzheimer's and this is the only drug that has some evidence that it slows the progression of Alzheimer's and actually decreases the number of people who will be suffering."

There is more than one anti-Alzheimer's drug currently available in the UK, with evidence that that they may delay the progression of Alzheimer's symptoms in some patients.

Mr Bain added that the side-effects of dapsone were so well-documented and managed that human efficacy trials could proceed straight away.

In the UK, as many as one in 12 people will develop Alzheimer's disease. Its cause is unknown.

Approximately 300 patients in each of the four countries would hopefully be recruited for the clinical trials, Mr Bain said.

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23 Aug 00 | Health
Alzheimer's and CJD 'similar'
20 Jun 00 | Health
'First real test' for Alzheimer's
19 Jan 00 | Health
India targets leprosy
07 Sep 98 | Medical notes
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