Could a drug used to treat arthritis provide new hope for dementia patients?

Staying healthy for longer

Drugs used to treat the inflammatory condition rheumatoid arthritis have shown great promise as a potential new treatment for people living with dementia.

Southampton researchers have shown that rheumatoid arthritis patients who take anti-inflammatory medication have around half the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The research, led by Professor Chris Edwards from the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, is published in the journal ‘Alzheimer’s & Dementia’. With Queen's University Belfast, they have since been awarded £400,000 by the Alzheimer’s Society to continue their research. 

Calming inflammation

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. It is an autoimmune disease that develops when your immune system – which usually fights infection – attacks the cells that line your joints by mistake, making them painful, swollen and stiff.

There’s currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis but medication can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation and damage in the joints.

As inflammation is a characteristic feature of many other conditions, including dementia, drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and reduce inflammation may also be beneficial for patients with other diseases. This has already been shown to be the case for treating patients with heart disease, where initial promising results are now being further investigated in large-scale clinical trials.

In this study, researchers have shown that disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), particularly methotrexate, appear to protect against dementia.

Halving the risk of developing dementia

The researchers analysed anonymous data collected from the patient records of over 5,800 people living with rheumatoid arthritis across the UK.

They compared 3,876 patients who took DMARDs against 1,938 patients who didn’t take the drugs, and found that those on the anti-inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis medication had approximately half the risk of developing dementia.

This discovery shows DMARDs provide a potential new dementia treatment, and supports further investigation in clinical trials to see if these drugs can be used to prevent or treat dementia.

“Although there is medication available that can temporarily reduce some symptoms or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, there is currently no cure for the condition,” explained Professor Chris Edwards, who’s also a consultant rheumatologist at Southampton General Hospital.

“This study shows a positive link between patients taking drugs to treat arthritis and reducing their risk of developing dementia – potentially by up to 50%. The results we’ve seen make us optimistic that we are getting closer to better treating this neurological disease.”

Posted on Tuesday 30 January 2018