UNLV School of Medicine third year student Justin Bauzon was in a high school psychology course at Las Vegas’ Advanced Technologies Academy when he says he became “absolutely infatuated with the brain,” the organ Nobel laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA’s structure, called “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.”
Bauzon’s fascination with the 3-pound organ that is more powerful than any supercomputer wasn’t just a high school passing fancy -- his interest continued to grow as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in neurobiology, the study of the nervous system and the workings of the brain.
“Each year, I took every college course I could sign up for that was neuro-related,” he says. ”I was fascinated by the brain’s complexity and how it could determine the very behaviors and interactions that make us human. I found the idea that there was much we didn’t know about the brain so perplexing -- the lack of truly curative interventions for many brain-related diseases like Alzheimer’s attests to how much we still have to learn. I saw this gap in knowledge as an opportunity where I could contribute and really make a difference.”
With that kind of background in mind, the fact that Bauzon recently became, while still in medical school, the lead author of an important research article recently published in the highly-respected, peer-reviewed Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy journal doesn’t seem at all unlikely. Instead, his team’s publication comes across as an intellectual progression fueled by passion, where Bauzon’s educational fermentation resulted in a study that examines how researchers are now investigating whether drugs used for one purpose can also be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's, a progressive and fatal brain disorder with a long goodbye, one that often reduces sufferers to a quarrelsome infancy.
“Justin Bauzon’s paper shows how many repurposed drugs are being tested in Alzheimer’s disease and where the drugs came from in terms of conditions for which they are already approved,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, the former medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and now director of the Chambers-Grundy Center for Transformative Neuroscience in the UNLV Department of Brain Health. “This is an important contribution to understanding Alzheimer’s drug development and will encourage others to use the repurposing strategy, ultimately resulting in better treatments for patients.”
Trials for the repurposing or repositioning of drugs are not unusual. Because they have been previously optimized for efficacy, safety and bioavailability, considerable investments in research and development can be compressed through repurposing. It is also not unusual for one drug to be effective for more than one disease. Gabapentin, for instance, was originally developed for treating epilepsy and is now an effective pain-killer. Sildenafil, originally developed for treating high blood pressure, is today more often used to treat erectile dysfunction. Drugs created to combat one type of cancer have been found to be effective against other types.
“Millions of dollars can be shaved off by bypassing some early trials that drugs go through,” Bauzon noted.
Data, he said, is too preliminary to conclude which, if any, of the 58 drugs now in different stages of clinical trials for repurposing will ever be designated as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. “The best that can be said is that some seem to have more potential than others,” he said.