Alzheimer's disease, elderly, hands
A drug called etanercept halted progression of the brain disease within six months of starting the treatment.Victor Camilo/Flickr

A medication commonly used to treat arthritis may help treat Alzheimer's disease, the brain disorder that leads to the destruction of memory and other important functions of the brain, says a new study.

Interestingly, the drug called etanercept (Enbrel) halted progression of the brain disease within six months of starting the treatment. It is normally administered through an injection to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK prescribed either etanercept or a placebo to 41 Alzheimer's patients, suffering from mild to moderate symptoms at the beginning of the study. During the six-month study period, researchers monitored changes in memory function, behavior and ability to perform daily activities in the participants. Patients taking placebo showed a decline in all these fields, while the condition of the etanercept group remained stagnant and did not get worse.

"Our results are better than we expected. We saw exactly what we hoped we would and no one has shown these effects before. The results are very consistent," Professor Clive Holmes, who led the study, told The Telegraph.

The drug works by inhibiting the activities of a protein called TNF α proteins that are released by blood cells as a response to inflammation. Higher levels of these proteins have been linked to worsening of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer's.

"A large number of anti-inflammatory approaches have been tried in patients with established Alzheimer's, but with little evidence of efficacy," Holmes said in a news release. "We have shown that a targeted approach against TNFα offers protection against the development of the disease. Our study was small and lasted for six months, so it needs to be developed further, however, our projections suggest that the benefits would continue. This now needs to be tested."

Holmes presented the study findings at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Denmark.

It was a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist named Alois Alzheimer, who successfully identified and narrated the clinical symptoms of the progressive disease in 1906. It is one of the most common causes of dementia and does not have any cure. Dementia is a syndrome related to the brain that leads to memory loss, difficulty in communicating, thinking, understanding, judgment, planning and the ability to perform daily routines. A World Health Organization (WHO) report estimate prevalence of dementia to 35.6 million, with 7.7 million new cases reported every year.