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A painkiller similar to iboprufen that is used to treat period pain has given hope of a breakthrough in reversing Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers today revealed that memory problems and brain inflamation in mice were “completely reversed” by giving them mefenamic acid for a month. They now want to see the anti-inflammatory drug, which costs around £1.50 a week and is known in the UK as Ponstan, tested on humans in the hope of finding the first cure for Alzheimer’s.

Dr David Brough, who led the Manchester university team, said: “There is experimental evidence now to strongly suggest that inflammation in the brain makes Alzheimer’s disease worse.

“Our research shows for the first time that mefenamic acid, a simple Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug, can target an important inflammatory pathway called the NLRP3 inflammasome, which damages brain cells. Until now, no drug has been available to target this pathway, so we are very excited by this result.”

About Around 500,000 people in the UK have Alzheimer’s disease, which gets worse over time and destroys their ability to remember, think and make decisions.

Testing the usefulness of drugs already licensed for other conditions is a priority as it could “shortcut” the 15 years needed to develop a dementia disease from scratch.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “These promising lab results identify a class of existing drugs that have potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease by blocking a particular part of the immune response.

“However, these drugs are not without side effects and should not be taken for Alzheimer’s disease at this stage – studies in people are needed first.”

The research, funded by the Medical Research Council and the Alzheimer’s Society, is published in the journal Nature Communications.