UK scientists say a drug to prevent the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease could enter clinical trials within the next few years.
Alzheimer’s is an emerging epidemic as large numbers of people in many industrialized countries enter their senior years. One in eight or 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia. One in three people over 65 will die with dementia.
The disease begins when a protein called amyloid-beta starts to clump together in senile plaques in the brain, damaging nerve cells and leading to memory loss and confusion.
Drs. David Allsop and Mark Taylor at Lancaster University have successfully created a new drug which can reduce the number of senile plaques by one-third, as well as more than doubling the number of new nerve cells in a particular region of the brain associated with memory.
The medication also significantly reduces the amount of brain inflammation and oxidative damage associated with the disease.
The drug was tested on transgenic mice containing two mutant human genes linked to inherited forms of Alzheimer’s, so that they would develop some of the changes associated with the illness. The drug is designed to cross the blood-brain barrier and prevent amyloid-beta from sticking together to form plaques.
Allsop, who led the research and was the first scientist to isolate senile plaques from human brain, said: “When we got the test results back, we were highly encouraged.
“The amount of plaque in the brain had been reduced by a third and this could be improved if we gave a larger dose of the drug, because at this stage, we don’t know what the optimal dose is.”
The drug needs to be tested for safety before it can enter human trials. But if it passes this hurdle, the aim would be to give the drug to people with mild symptoms of memory loss before they develop the illness.
“Many people who are mildly forgetful may go on to develop the disease because these senile plaques start forming years before any symptoms manifest themselves. The ultimate aim is to give the drug at that stage to stop any more damage to the brain, before it’s too late,” Allsop said.
Results of the study are published in the open access journal PLoS ONE.
Source: Lancaster University