Two drugs considered for use with dementia-related strokes

Feb. 13, 2023

Two cheap and common drugs could be re-purposed as the first specific treatment for people who experience a type of stroke linked to nearly half of all dementias, according to the results of new research.

A clinical trial run by the University of Nottingham and University of Edinburgh and funded by the British Heart Foundation has shown that isosorbide mononitrate and cilostazol, which are already used to treat other heart and circulatory diseases [2], can safely and effectively improve the debilitating outcomes people experience after lacunar stroke, particularly when they’re used in combination. The trial results were presented at the American Heart Association International Stroke Conference. 

Lacunar strokes affect at least 25,000 people in the UK each year. They’re thought to be caused by cerebral small vessel disease (cSVD), where small blood vessels deep within the brain become damaged and stop working properly. Lacunar strokes can have distressing effects as people may develop problems with their thinking and memory, movement, and even dementia. There are currently no effective treatments. 

The two drugs trialed could be available as a treatment for lacunar strokes within five years, if the results are confirmed in further trials, according to the trailblazing trial team at the Universities of Edinburgh and Nottingham, led by Professors Joanna Wardlaw and Philip Bath, and the UK Dementia Research Institute. 

The trial involved 363 people who had experienced a lacunar stroke. As well as their standard stroke prevention treatment, participants took either isosorbide mononitrate or cilostazol individually, both drugs together, or neither, for one year. The researchers investigated cilostazol and isosorbide mononitrate as they are thought to improve the function of the inner lining of blood vessels (the endothelium). Problems with the endothelium are thought to play a role in cSVD. 

After one year, participants that took both drugs were nearly 20% less likely to have problems with their thinking and memory compared to the group that did not take either drug. They were also more independent and reported a better quality of life. 

Those who took isosorbide mononitrate were less likely to have had further strokes at one year than those who did not take the drug. Individually, isosorbide mononitrate also improved thinking and memory skills, and quality of life, while cilostazol improved independence and mood. But these effects were strengthened when the two drugs were taken together. 

The team is now planning to test these drugs in a larger four-year clinical trial, which they hope to start by the end of 2023. They are also looking to test whether the drugs are effective in different conditions linked to cSVD, such as vascular cognitive impairment and dementia. 

University of Nottingham release