'Promising' dementia drug made from pigs' brains could help 200,000 sufferers

The new drug called cerebrolysin improves concentration, memory and mood among those suffering with vascular dementia

  • The new drug is licensed in some countries but not in the UK or U.S.
  • No serious side effects were reported from taking the drug

By Jenny Hope

PUBLISHED: 00:46, 31 January 2013 | UPDATED: 03:32, 31 January 2013


The new drug called cerebrolysin improves concentration, memory processing and mood in patients

Dementia sufferers may benefit from a ‘promising’ new treatment made from pigs’ brains, say researchers.

The new drug – called cerebrolysin – improves concentration, memory processing and mood in patients with a certain kind of dementia known as vascular dementia, which affects up to 200,000 Britons.

No treatment has yet been specifically developed for vascular dementia.

But the new drug is licensed in some countries for dementia, stroke and traumatic brain injury – although not yet here or in the US.

Researcher Li He of the Department of Neurology at Sichuan University in Sichuan, China, said ‘Our review suggests that Cerebrolysin can help improve cognitive and global function in patients with mild to moderate severity vascular dementia.’

Cerebrolysin is a drug made from pig brain proteins that has produced some positive results from small vascular dementia trials.

Larger trials are now underway.

But the drug is not easy to administer, with regular intravenous infusions necessary, says the review.

The review analysed the most up-to-date evidence from six trials involving 597 people.

All were given Cerebrolysin intravenously in different daily concentrations and for different treatment periods, from a few weeks to three years, depending on the trial.

Compared to standard care alone or placebos (dummy treatments), Cerebrolysin significantly improved brain function based on testing recall, arithmetic or other cognitive abilities.

It had a small positive effect on patients’ overall clinical state and mood. Long-term treatment may have greater benefits, although most of the trials were short.

Vascular dementia is a common form of dementia caused by damage to the network of blood vessels supplying the brain affecting up to one in four of 800,000 dementia sufferers in the UK.

Some symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s disease and stroke but people with vascular dementia often experience difficulty thinking quickly, concentrating and communicating, as well as seizures and severe confusion.

Dr He said: ‘The results are promising but due to low numbers of trials, inconsistencies between trials, risk of bias in the way some of the trials were conducted and lack of long-term follow-up, we cannot yet recommend Cerebrolysin as a routine treatment for vascular dementia.’

No serious side effects were reported due to taking the drug.

Dr He said ‘This indicates to us that Cerebrolysin is safe and well tolerated by patients with vascular dementia.

But the fact that it has to be given in regular intravenous infusions means it could be impractical for use on a large scale.’

The director of research at Alzheimer¿s Research UK said developments in new research was ‘absolutely vital’

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said ‘Cochrane systematic reviews are an incredibly valuable tool, as they pull together the best available evidence on a particular treatment or intervention.

‘This review found that Cerebrolysin does appear to have some cognitive benefits for people with vascular dementia, although it is not clear how these might translate into day-to-day improvements in people’s lives.

‘It is positive to see potential new treatments tested in people, but larger clinical trials are needed before we could know whether Cerebrolysin could be a feasible treatment option for people with the condition.

‘Vascular dementia affects thousands of people in the UK, but sadly there are no specific treatments available for people with the condition.

Research into new treatments is absolutely vital, but without continued investment, promising findings cannot be taken forward. We must ensure that research into dementia remains a national priority.’

Jessica Smith, research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, said ‘This review is interesting but highlights the lack of research into Vascular dementia.

If we are to really understand whether Cerebrolysin can be potentially be used to treat people more research is needed into its long term effects.

‘Vascular dementia is the second most common form of the condition affecting around a quarter of all people with dementia.

‘While other forms of dementia have seen progress in research, there is currently no treatment for vascular dementia.

‘We desperately need more research and more funding for research if we are to develop effective interventions for all forms of dementia.’

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