First Drug to Slow Alzheimer’s Discovered

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 Blood Test Diagnosing Depression

The first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults has been developed, providing the first objective, scientific diagnosis for depression.

The test measures the levels of nine genetic indicators (known as “RNA markers”) in the blood and can also predict who will benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy, offering the opportunity for more effective, individualised therapy for depression-sufferers. The test also showed the biological effects of the therapy, the first measurable, blood-based evidence of the therapy’s success and showed who is vulnerable to recurring episodes of depression, Northwestern University researchers report.

“The longer this delay is, the harder it is on the patient, their family and environment,” said lead researcher Eva Redei, a professor in psychiatry and behavioural sciences and physiology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“Additionally, if a patient is not able or willing to communicate with the doctor, the diagnosis is difficult to make,” she said. “If the blood test is positive, that would alert the doctor.”

The test works by measuring the blood concentration of the RNA markers. A cell’s RNA molecules are what interpret its genetic code and then carry out those instructions from DNA. After blood is drawn, the RNA is isolated, measured and compared to RNA levels expected in a non-depressed person’s blood.

The blood test’s accuracy in diagnosing depression is similar to those of standard psychiatric diagnostic interviews, which are about 72 – 80% effective.