Treatment window thrown open for Alzheimer’s

A study identifies a critical time window where potential Alzheimer's treatments might have a greater effect.

Posted on 28th February 2013

A team of US scientists has identified a critical time window of 15 years where treatments targeting the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein amyloid might have a greater effect. The study, published in Neurology, adds to evidence that early treatment in the diseases that cause dementia holds real hope for checking their destructive course.

Amyloid has been heavily implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The sticky protein forms toxic clumps in the brain and leads to the destruction of cells. The team from the Mayo Clinic used PET scans to track the build-up of the protein in 260 people, aged between 70 and 92, over a 16-month period. At the start of the study, 205 participants were assessed as being cognitively normal and 55 as cognitively impaired.

Using the data collected over the study period, the team modelled a predicted rate of amyloid build-up, controlling for age and sex as well as whether participants carried the known Alzheimer’s risk gene APOE4.

The team discovered that the rate of amyloid build-up initially accelerates, before slowing and finally reaching a plateau. The findings suggest that a period of around 15 years will elapse before the plateau, with treatments at the early stages of this window more likely to help slow the tide and associated cognitive problems.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“The rapid technological advances in scanning have helped us understand the disease process of Alzheimer’s in new detail. The evidence is pointing towards one thing: new treatments need to be tested early. Studies like this help improve methods of picking up Alzheimer’s early and provide a window to test new and emerging treatments. Recent drug failures may well have come as a result of trialling treatments too late.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading the drive to detect the diseases that cause dementia earlier than ever before to revolutionise our ability to treat them. While the progress we are making is positive, we are continually hamstrung by low funding. Greater support for dementia research will yield the answers we so sorely need far more quickly.”

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