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Liverpool scientist starts work on new Alzheimer’s drugs

13/11/2012

A dementia scientist at the University of Liverpool is about to embark on an innovative project to develop new drugs aimed at stopping Alzheimer’s disease. The work is funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and is as part of our recent announcement of £5.5m for new research projects to tackle the devastating disease.

Alzheimer’s Research UK currently funds more than £20m of pioneering research across the UK to understand the causes of dementia, improve diagnosis and find new treatments and preventions. Prof Jeremy Turnbull, who works at the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the University, has been awarded almost £30,000 for the six month project.

There are 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, including over 4,500 in Liverpool alone. More than half of these people have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. The cost of these diseases to the economy stands at £23bn, more than the cost of cancer and heart disease combined, yet research into dementia remains hugely underfunded.

Current treatments for dementia can help with symptoms, but there are no drugs available that can slow or stop the underlying disease. Finding targets for effective new treatments is a major goal for researchers across the world. Prof Turnbull and his team have discovered that complex sugars, found naturally in the body, can block a protein that causes damage in Alzheimer’s. They believe these sugars have the potential to be developed into a safe and effective treatment to slow the disease.

Prof Turnbull said:
“The protein that we are interested in is called BACE and is responsible for creating amyloid, which builds up in the brain in Alzheimer’s and causes damage. While BACE isn’t a new target for drug development, it has proved to be a difficult protein to block. We are using a new approach, harnessing the natural ability of sugars like the blood-thinning drug heparin to block the action of BACE.

“We have already shown that this method works in the test tube, but this funding boost will allow us to take it a step further. We plan to use chemical reactions to alter the heparin sugar, making new compounds that we can test for the best effects and fewest side effects. This will help us to narrow down those with the most potential to take on and test further. I am really grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for investing in this research, and giving me the opportunity to take my discoveries forward.”

Phill Cowley, a builder from St Helens knows all too well the desperate need for research into Alzheimer’s after his mum was diagnosed with the disease over seven years ago. He said:
“My mum, Margaret, has Alzheimer’s and it’s been heartbreaking to watch her slip away from us. She was such an independent and high-spirited lady, but the disease has robbed her of everything she loved. I can’t believe how little support there is for dementia research, which is why I have been raising funds to help. It’s great to see that my support is helping scientists here in Liverpool to find the answers.”

Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“We are proud to announce a record year for investment in research and to be able to fund Prof Turnbull’s work to investigate an exciting new approach for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. With so many people across the UK living with the disease, there is a desperate need for safe and effective treatments. We are dedicated to defeating dementia and pleased to be supporting such world-class research in Liverpool.

“Research is the only solution to the growing dementia crisis, but funding for research lags far behind that of other diseases. To make a real difference to people’s lives, we urgently need support to keep dementia a national priority.”

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