(PHOENIX – May 17, 2023) – A groundbreaking national study co-authored by a Barrow Neurological Institute neurologist and researcher has found a common gout medication reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The medication, allopurinol, was associated with a 13 to 34 percent lower risk for each neurodegenerative disease group, and a mean reduction of 23 percent overall, researchers found. Allopurinol is used to lower uric acid levels, mainly for gout.
Similar reductions were associated with carvedilol, which is used to treat hypertension and heart disease, but also shares a common mechanism with allopurinol. The findings came through a population-based, case-control study of 334,387 U.S. Medicare beneficiaries aged 66-90, with a median age of 78 years.
“In this large, population-based study, we took a unique approach to investigate the association between various medication categories in relation to the three most common neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” says Brad Racette, MD, FAAN, Chairman of Neurology and Senior Vice-President at Barrow Neurological Institute and co-author of the study. “These findings suggest a possible new direction for repurposing or developing medications for neuroprotection.”
Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS have no known cures. Researchers stressed that their study addressed the risk of developing the diseases, not arresting them.
“The medication associations we studied relate to disease risk,” Dr. Racette says. “Further research will be necessary to examine whether this mechanism slows progression of these diseases.”
The global prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, is increasing due to an aging population and longer life expectancy in most parts of the world.
Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease, with an estimated 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and older living with the condition, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Nearly 1 million Americans live with Parkinson’s, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. More than 31,000 Americans have been diagnosed with ALS, according to 2017 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS are largely focused on symptom management, making it urgent to identify disease-modifying therapies,” Dr. Racette says.
Pharmaceutical treatments can emerge through the synthesis of new drugs or the repurposing of existing drugs. The latter approach is cost-effective as FDA-approved medications typically have well-established pharmacokinetic and safety profiles.
The researchers hypothesized that the three neurodegenerative diseases share some common neurodegenerative mechanisms.
To identify patients for the study, the researchers used a large, population-based administrative claims data set of U.S. Medicare beneficiaries from 2006-2007, including Part D pharmacy claims,– to identify prescription drugs associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or ALS. To maximize their ability to identify potentially beneficial drugs, they screened medications according to their biological targets and pharmacological actions on those targets, rather than as individual drugs.
The study, which was co-authored by researchers at Barrow, the Washington University School of Medicine and University of Witwatersrand, was published in The Public Library of Science ONE on May 17.