Within the next ten years, breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease will make the condition as manageable as HIV. That is the opinion of Professor Michel Goedert, whose credentials include a Nobel Prize and a prestigious Potamkin Prize for his work in the field.
The key to the expert’s prediction will be tackling dementia with drugs before it develops, as opposed to reversing it once it’s set in. Professor Goedert is a leading neuroscientist, who was instrumental in discovering how protein plaques lead to Alzheimer’s.
He said: “Alzheimer's will become something like HIV. It's still there, but it has been contained or whittled down by drug treatments. It will disappear as a major problem from society.”
The professor’s statement is a far cry from the fears outlined by the Alzheimer’s Society, which expects two million people to be suffering from dementia by 2051. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and there is currently no cure.
Taking drugs too late in the progression of the disease often leads to them failing, Professor Goedert explained. There are a number of treatments being developed at present, but testing them on the basis of trying to reverse symptoms instead of prevent them is proving unproductive.
Professor Bart De Strooper of University College London worked alongside Professor Goedert to win the Nobel Prize. His opinions on the outlook for Alzheimer’s treatments are similar and more optimistic than many widely-held views.
He said: “The mistakes we have made in the trials is that treatment has been given too late. It's like popping a statin to stop a heart attack. But, when we first started, we knew almost nothing about Alzheimer's and now we understand a huge amount. In ten years, we will have a completely different picture.”
Among the Alzheimer’s drugs that are offering hope for the future is LMTX, a tablet that is taken twice a day. Research released in November last year showed that MRI scans of dementia sufferers who had been on the medication for nine months resembled those of healthy people.
As well as improving brain scans, a difference has been seen in patients' ability to perform everyday tasks after taking the drug. Bathing, dressing and remembering things like the date are often beyond the capabilities of those with dementia, but those on LMTX were better at such actions.
LMTX includes a chemical that dissolves the tangles of proteins in the brain that lead to plaques. Removing the plaques and stopping the formation of new ones in the memory part of the brain appears to be an effective way to tackle the symptoms of dementia.
Trials of the drug will involve 800 participants across 12 countries for the duration of 18 months. Abilities, such as eating unaided and using the telephone, are being monitored, as these are important elements of leading an independent life.
While the results so far are promising, multiple tests and trials must be successful before a drug can be brought to market. Hopefully, the scientists’ predictions will come true and Alzheimer’s will become a manageable condition before long.