Scientists have discovered the first drug of its kind that appears to slow the pace of mental decline in Alzheimer’s patients.
Solanezumab, developed by the American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, was shown to block memory loss in patients with a mild version of the disease, making it the first medicine ever to slow pace of damage to patients’ brains.
Existing drugs, such as Aricept, can manage only the symptoms of dementia by helping the dying brain cells function, but Solanezumab attacks the deformed proteins that build up in the brain during Alzheimer’s.
Dr Doug Brown, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Today’s findings strongly suggest that targeting people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease with these antibody treatments is the best way to slow or stop Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs are able to reduce the sticky plaques of amyloid that build up in the brain, and now we have seen the first hints that doing this early enough may slow disease progression.”
Should further trial results be positive, it could still be up to several years before the drug would become available on the NHS. Another phase-three trial is due to report in 2016 and then the drug would need to go through regulatory approval and would need to be shown to be sufficiently beneficial to patients.
Image credit: Ann Gordon
The U.S. has announced the allocation of $46 million to develop new technologies for exploring the brain.
Wearable brain scanners and lasers that can turn hundreds of cells on and off were among 58 projects awarded the figure in federal grants as part of President Obama’s $100 million initiative to unlock the secrets of the human brain.
Most of the projects focus on developing new tools to help answer basic questions about the brain, including classifying the myriad cell types in the brain and developing new methods to record brain activity and integrate that into fundamental theories of the brain.
Launched in 2013, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is designed to give scientists greater insight into how the healthy brain works and a better understanding of what systems go awry in diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia.
“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar,” said Obama, referring to the decades-long Human Genome Project, a groundbreaking international effort to map our DNA, which this new project is being silhouetted against. “Today our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new materials to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.”
Researchers have identified a set of proteins present in the blood which can be used to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s with almost 90% accuracy. The team believes that this discovery could not only be used to improve clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs, but it may also eventually lead to a blood test for Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, usually affecting people over the age of 65. Currently, 44 million people worldwide have dementia; this is predicted to rise to 135 million in 2050. Unfortunately, there are no effective drug treatments for Alzheimer’s.
Researchers wanted to find a way to identify patients presenting mild cognitive impairment that will likely develop Alzheimer’s in order to enroll them into clinical trials. It is hoped that this will speed up the discovery of drugs that can prevent or treat the condition.
For the study, researchers from Oxford University and King’s College London analyzed the blood of over 1,000 individuals; 476 had Alzheimer’s, 220 had mild cognitive impairment and 452 were elderly controls without dementia. The team was interested in the levels of 26 proteins that were previously found to be associated with Alzheimer’s.
They discovered that of these proteins, 10 were strongly associated with disease severity and progression. Furthermore, these proteins in combination could be used to predict whether individuals with mild cognitive decline would develop Alzheimer’s within one year with a high level of accuracy (87%).
“A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease,” said lead researcher Simon Lovestone in a news-release. “The next step will be to validate our findings in further sample sets, to see if we can improve accuracy and reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, and to develop a reliable test suitable to be used by doctors.”
Image credit: Cardinal Senior Care