The drugs, which have shown promise in animal studies, were developed by scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Called p53 inhibitors, they attack a protein that's involved in nerve cell death.
The researchers say it's a new strategy for preserving brain function after a sudden injury or chronic disease. Their findings appear in today's issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
Studies of p53 inhibitors have been limited to cells and animals, but human clinical trials could begin within two to three years, says researcher Nigel H. Greig, of the National Institute on Aging.
Current drugs used to treat brain injury and damage from brain diseases offer symptom relief but don't stop or slow the actual cause of the brain damage. However, the p53 inhibitors do that by preventing the death of brain cells.
The drugs target the p53 protein, which triggers the biochemical events that result in cell death.
In laboratory tests, brain cells exposed to toxic chemicals survived longer when they were given p53 inhibitors. The drugs also reduced the severity of stroke damage in rodents.
To learn more about stroke and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, go to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.