'New era' for dementia treatment may be on horizon


New treatments for dementia are "on target" to be developed within the next decade, a leading expert has said.

Researchers will know if they are at the beginning of "a new era" for tackling the development of diseases such as Alzheimer's "in the coming year", Professor John Hardy said.

The award-winning University College London (UCL) biologist said therapies being trialled which combat the build-up of the damaging amyloid beta and tau protein concentrations in the brain could provide a breakthrough.

Speaking at the Royal Society, London, he said: "I think we are on target for some therapies for 2025. When the drug trial results come out - and if they're positive - we will know we are on the right road.

"When you are on the right road, you put your foot on the accelerator and you can go quicker, so those results are key."

He added: "In the coming year we will know if we are already at the start of a new era of better treatments for slowing or stopping the development of Alzheimer's disease and allied neurodegenerative disorders, or if current research strategies should be refocused."

Dementia is a degenerative disorder that researchers estimate 850,000 people live with in the UK today, and has symptoms including memory loss.

By 2025, the Alzheimer's Society estimates one million people will have dementia.

Age is the main risk factor, but not the cause, for dementia, meaning effective treatment for the disease will soon be required due to the UK's ageing population.

As well as Alzheimer's, understanding of other forms of dementia such as Parkinson's disease is also progressing, Professor Hardy added.

Symptoms of dementia are believed to sometimes be caused when amyloid beta clumps together to form a plaque in the brain, interfering with how brain cells signal to each other.

Some of the current drug trials, two of which are now in the clinical trial stage, focus on using antibodies to take amyloid beta out of the brain. 

If successful, these drugs could be used to prevent the development of dementia in its early stages. 

Research also determined that Parkinson's disease can be caused by a set of genes which control how the brain digests its proteins - progress which Professor Hardy said had been "remarkable".

As well as pharmaceutical treatments for dementia, experts also stress the importance of lifestyle improvements in preventing a disorder from developing.

Smoking, high cholesterol, drinking above recommended limits and high blood pressure are identified as factors which raise the risk of developing such a disease, according to Public Health England.

It is estimated that as much as £5 billion could be saved each year if these so-called primary prevention methods are adopted at the same rate as they have in the past few decades.

Alzheimer's Disease UK Research director Simon Ridley said: "If primary prevention improvements can be maintained at the same rate as that achieved in the past 20 years, they alone may generate savings of £5 billion or more a year by the 2030s."

He added that the impact healthy lifestyles have on preventing dementia requires further research.