Extract from article by Dr Kat Arney for The Daily Mail, 26 February 2018.
After decades of research, scientists have failed to find any effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, and, following futile efforts, last month pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced it is ending its own dementia research programme.
The reason for this lack of progress is beginning to emerge: the scientific idea underpinning the majority of treatments and clinical trials is fundamentally flawed.
Scientists have spent years developing treatments that target a protein called amyloid, which plays a vital role in healthy nerve cell function, but can become corrupted — sticking together to form damaging clumps or plaques, which destroy nerve cells.
The evidence that amyloid is critical in Alzheimer’s disease is simply overwhelming. However, this doesn’t mean removing amyloid will be an effective cure and there’s no good evidence that it makes a difference to the progression of the illness. Also, most Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed once symptoms such as memory loss start, and by that time amyloid plaques will have been growing undetected for decades. The damage has already been done. It’s like somebody breaking their leg, then having a splint put on it four years later. It doesn’t work. We need to treat people at the time the plaques start forming and begin trials earlier, to stop damage in the first place.
- Professor Simon Lovestone
This leads to gradual but irreversible loss of brain function, and the characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers believed treatments that break down amyloid plaques would stop the march of Alzheimer’s. Yet virtually every drug tested has failed in large-scale trials.
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to identify those people who will benefit from having treatment.
To tackle this problem, Professor Lovestone and his team in Oxford have launched a project intended to detect the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s.
The Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study is examining 250 people aged 55 to 80 using a barrage of tests, ranging from blood and DNA analyses to high-tech brain scans and memory assessments.
The volunteers will be monitored to see if they develop Alzheimer’s, then researchers can look back at results of the study in search of tell-tale signs that could signify early disease, such as activity patterns in the brain or chemicals in the bloodstream.