£50,000 dementia drug discovery project gets underway in Oxford

Posted on 7th October 2015

Researchers in Oxford are embarking on a £50,000 study to develop treatments for dementia. The funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, will kick-off new drug discovery efforts that specifically target dementia with Lewy bodies – the third largest cause of dementia in the UK.

As well as more common dementia symptoms, such as memory loss and thinking problems, people with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) often experience specific symptoms including visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances and movement difficulties. These symptoms arise due to the build-up of a protein called alpha-synuclein into toxic clumps, which accumulate in the brain and damage nerve cells. While some of the memory problems can be managed to an extent with current symptomatic treatments used for Alzheimer’s, the more unique symptoms remain untackled and there are no treatments that slow or halt the disease itself.

Dr George Tofaris, an Associate Professor of Neurology at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences of the University of Oxford, will meet this challenge head-on, by searching for new drugs that could kick-start the destruction of alpha-synuclein. Using innovative techniques to study nerve cells in the laboratory, the team will test a large number of possible drugs that stimulate the cell’s waste disposal process – critical for keeping alpha-synuclein levels in check. This early-phase drug discovery project will zero in on drugs that are safe and can reduce alpha-synuclein levels in nerve cells. These initial steps are critical in the hunt for treatments in the clinic.

Dr Tofaris said:

“We desperately need drugs that specifically target the hallmark features of DLB. We want to test new experimental drugs on brain cells that have been created in the lab from skin cells. This process uses a Nobel-prize winning stem cell technique that is transforming our ability to study human nerve cells in detail in the laboratory. This new funding will allow us to ‘shortlist’ drugs that hold potential for tackling DLB –  important groundwork to ignite drug discovery efforts for the disease.”

Dr Emma O’Brien from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“While there are lots of parallel approaches currently in development for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, dementia with Lewy bodies has received relatively little focus in the push for drug discovery. With 100,000 people in the UK living with DLB, it is vital that we invest in pioneering studies to develop new approaches to tackle the disease. Oxford is a leader in dementia research and Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading the fight to defeat dementia, including investment in a new £10m Drug Discovery Institute that will enable more important studies like this to get off the ground.”

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