A new promising treatment for Alzheimer’s has been shown to combat changes in the brain that are caused by the disease. Scientists have called the treatment a breakthrough that is the best news in dementia research for a quarter of a century.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia in Britain with more than 850,000 people suffering from the condition. Symptoms include memory problems, confusion and loss of speech. Every year it plays a part in tens of thousands of deaths and at this time there is no cure.
The new treatment involves the experimental compound ‘Aducanumab’ which appears to work by turning the immune system against the build up of noxious protein – called amyloid beta – in the brain. Early evidence suggests that the drug can also slow down cognitive decline by as much as 50% or stop it altogether in some cases. The results were published in the journal ‘Nature’ – however, the trial was small-scale, lasted for just one year and involved just 165 patients – a group size too small for the findings to be definite.
Currently, people who have the condition are signing up for a much larger clinical trial of what will be a monthly injection of the compound. The trial will test 2,700 patients altogether with mild/early Alzheimer’s, some of which will be from Britain. The study is expected to run until the end of the decade. Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK David Reynolds believes the treatment may be available on the NHS after about five years, if results from larger trials confirm the findings to date, and the benefits outweigh the side-effects.
Side effects include a build up of fluid outside of the brain cells, possibly caused by leaks in blood vessels or a type of swelling known as oedema. Those researching Aducanumab believe that when it is injected into the bloodstream, around one in a thousand particles cross over to the brain and bind with the clusters of noxious protein before attracting the patient’s own immune cells (microglia) which work to clear the protein away.
The treatment is not the first to show promising results, but experts remain sceptical. Other drugs have shown promise in early small-scale trials but later showed no effectiveness in larger studies.
Pharmaceutical company TauRx recently announced that its pill, LMTX, stops mental deterioration in patients – but only for about 15% of those who took part. Oddly, the 15% who benefited from the treatment were the only ones not taking other treatments for the condition.
Another drug, Solanezumab, is completing its final-stage clinical trials this year. Results presented in July 2015 suggested the drug was capable of making a small improvement for people with mild symptoms.
Take action now
We often think of dementia as something that affects older people – but this is simply not true. Around 42,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 suffer from the condition. Other conditions – such as stroke or brain injury – can cause us to lose the ability to make decisions for ourselves at any stage in life.
If you lost mental capacity, your partner would not have the automatic right to manage your affairs. In many cases, joint bank accounts can be frozen until an Order is obtained from the Court which can take weeks and cost hundreds. The easiest way to ensure your loved ones don’t have to deal with these difficulties is to make a Lasting Power of Attorney. This allows you to nominate someone to make decisions for you, should you lose mental capacity. You can find out more on our Lasting Power of Attorney page, or get in touch with our Later Life Planning team.