Scientists have made a breakthrough in the battle against Alzheimer’s with an approach to treating the condition that has been hailed as a ‘world first’. In a project involving experts from Cambridge University and Sweden, a formula has been developed to target the toxic particles in the brain that cause the disease.
If the work continues to progress in such a positive fashion, clinical tests on new drug treatments could come as soon as 2020. This is hugely significant for an ageing population in which dementia is an increasingly big problem, stripping the elderly of their independence.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and treatment practices can only tackle the symptoms of the disease. Finding a way to stop its progression and reverse damage already done to the brain would be the scientific breakthrough of our time.
Laying out the findings of the new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Michele Vendruscolo of Cambridge University, said: “We’ve devised the first strategy to go after the cause. The hope is that new drugs can be developed.”
In Alzheimer’s patients, proteins called oligomers that would normally help to clean up excessive proteins in the brain “go rogue”. They form clumps that kill off healthy nerve cells and therefore whole sections of the organ that are responsible for important functions, such as memory.
Families of those with dementia may see changes in the personality of their loved one as the disease progresses. This, coupled with difficulties in performing everyday tasks, can be difficult to see, leaving many relatives feeling helpless.
Alzheimer’s is the fifth-leading cause of death in over-65s and is the most common form of dementia. Some 850,000 people are diagnosed with the condition and it is thought that by 2025, there will be a million patients in the UK with the disease, unless, of course, a cure can be found.
If scientists could find a way to delay the onset of dementia by just five years, then it would halve the number of people dying from the condition each year. This would equate to 30,000 lives, changing the outlook associated with diagnosis.
While the research community works on treatment options, individuals are encouraged to make lifestyle choices to help decrease their chances of being diagnosed with dementia. Physical exercise is a big factor in this and swimming, running and walking throughout life can have a positive impact later on.
Experts at the University of Tubingen in Germany set out to investigate the link between exercise and dementia. They found that two and a half hours of exercise a week is enough to significantly delay the effects of Alzheimer’s on the brain. Subjects who did 150 minutes of physical activity in a week had better scores in brain tests than their peers who did not.
It can be hard to get motivated to exercise, so it’s important people find a form that suits them. Studies have previously shown that even moderate activity, such as walking or yoga can have a big impact on brain health.