Pharmacists have made compounds that can terminate the natural death of brain cells and could treat an extent of neurodegenerative diseases. The protein p53 plays an important role in getting damaged cells to kill themselves. Its known to be important in cancer - where defective p53 genes allow cancer cells to grow, instead of dying off. Now researchers at the National Institutes of Health are using p53 in a new approach to brain disease.
They have developed a series of compounds that inhibit p53 in the brain. In cell and animal studies, the compounds protect the brain from damage, by keeping cells alive. For example, in a rat model of stroke, animals receiving the compounds survived far longer than those that did not. In another study, p53 inhibitors seemed to protect brain cells from beta amyloid, the toxic protein associated with Alzheimer's disease. However, more work is needed to ensure that the p53 inhibitors are truly specific to the brain, and do not trigger cancer in other cells of the body. Potential applications in humans are widespread - the first trials could be to protect against Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.