Dementia Forum 2015 report: a global call to action

Today’s headlines feature a new report from the World Innovation Health Summit Dementia Forum 2015, which underlines the need for global action to tackle dementia. The report makes recommendations to help fight dementia – including steps to attract new investment for research – and outlines some of the obstacles that have hampered research so far.

The report shines a necessary spotlight on some of the challenges facing dementia research today. Among those challenges is a perception that – following a number of failed clinical trials for dementia – major pharmaceutical companies are finding it challenging to invest in this area, fearing that diseases like Alzheimer’s are too tough to crack. Yet we need their involvement more than ever, and there are good reasons to believe that this challenge can be met.

It’s more than a decade since the last treatment for Alzheimer’s disease was licensed in the UK. Until relatively recently dementia was poorly understood, but the tide is beginning to turn: scientists now have a much better understanding of the mechanisms involved in the diseases that cause dementia, and how they might be tackled.

The task now is to make sure we capitalise on that understanding and translate promising findings into treatments. Alzheimer’s Research UK, the government and other funders have a big role to play here, but with the sort of investment needed to get new treatments to patients, we can’t do it without the pharmaceutical industry. That’s why we’re working to help encourage them to stay involved: initiatives like our Drug Discovery Alliance, dedicated to early-stage drug discovery, will help feed through more drug targets to be taken forward into clinical testing. We’ve also developed new ways of working with pharmaceutical companies, with Eisai and Lilly stepping up to the challenge as part of the Dementia Consortium. The initiative is designed to help academic findings translate swiftly into viable treatments by fast-tracking them into pharmaceutical development. These projects help create a new market for potential drugs to reignite R&D.

Dementia’s impact is already enormous, and it’s going to get bigger. In the UK 830,000 people are living with the condition. As our population ages, that number will exceed 1m by 2025. Behind those statistics are hundreds of thousands of families ripped apart by the condition, each with their own stories of heartbreak and devastation. They deserve better. It’s up to all of us to ensure they get it.


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  2. Dr Robert Peers on 6th March 2015 at 1:20 pm

    I have kept a large file on Alzheimer’s since finding its likely cause in 1990, and I am always struck by everybody’s big emphasis on developing new treatments: prevention is rarely mentioned. Perhaps we have given up on simple causes?

    This last-gasp treatment frenzy is unlikely to find a proper treatment anyway, if the primary cause is not known–for the cause gives us the mechanism, and then we have both cause and mechanism to tackle.

    Without the cause, we are likely to aim at numerous secondary brain targets, and end up disappointed.

    This cannot go on, under the fine-sounding name of treatment consortia and so forth.

    There is quite enough information–quite enough clues–in the published literature for any disciplined disease scholar to deduce the probable causes of the common dementias.

    Alzheimer’s would appear to have three very simple causes: rare cases involving early onset are clearly due to simple genetic mutations. The oxidizing painkiller phenacetin used to cause Alzheimer pathology as well as renal failure [Dr Robin Murray, Analgesic Abuse and Dementia; LANCET, 1973].

    Refined polyunsaturated food oils cause similar nerve cell membrane oxidation, so they mimic phenacetin abuse. Refining results in the oil carrying a neurotoxic ingredient that one can predict will cause membrane oxidation [“peroxidation”]: the brain and retina are the most susceptible tissues, due to their high content of oxidation-prone polyunsaturated fatty acids.

    Indeed, one sees in general practice patients using refined seed oils both mild amnesia and visual symptoms: glare sensitivity and some degree of night blindness.

    “Lipid peroxidation” in other tissues will restrict cell proliferation in a general way, but very mildly over the many years leading to Alzheimer’s. One does see much lower cancer risk in Alzheimer cases {Cathy Roe, St Louis; Jane Driver, Boston; Julian Benito-Leon, Madrid]. I predicted this striking benefit in 1990!! Indeed, a new cancer treatment could be based on this useful side-effect of getting Alzheimer’s: a moderate daily dose of refined seed oils could be given for 2 weeks at a time to kill cancer cells, repeating the course as needed–with only mild reversible memory dysfuncton.

    So we need prevention, which appears to be very simple: just avoid vacuum-deodorised seed oils! I have never seen Alzheimer’s develop in an olive oil user.

    As for treatment, the very best approach would be based on the primary disease mechanism, which only one researcher has ever come close to identifying: Dr Andy Dillin, when at the Salk Institute, proposed a few years ago that protein damage control [“proteostasis”] might decline with ageing, allowing protein aggregation diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s to appear rather late in life [after middle age, when the decline sets in].

    I agree with his scenario, but he sees no need for specific causes, except of course the wonky gene that drives Huntington’s. I have linked Alzheimers with refined seed oils, and Parkinson’s with saturated fat in the Western diet. I have also identified–in my study of the diets of healthy folk over age 90–a specific anti-ageing nutrient that indirectly BOOSTS PROTEOSTASIS!!!

    I have fed a concentrate of this molecule to 8 Parkinson’s cases, since 2006, with benefits seen in walking, balance and tremor; and I have also tried it on a 74-year old lady presenting with early-stage Alzheimer’s in 2012. Her aggression, memory deficits and disorientation all resolved within weeks, and her serial MRI brain scans show re-thickening of the cerebral cortex!! She remains well at the 30-month mark. I will write he up as a case study, pour encourager les autres!!

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About the author

Dr Matthew Norton

Dr Matthew Norton joined Alzheimer's Research UK as Head of Policy and Public Affairs in 2013 and lead on policy development and stakeholder engagement up to 2018. He has a PhD in Social Policy and experience of supporting the design and running of bio-medical and clinical research for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Matthew has also worked as a Senior Policy Advisor at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and prior to joining Alzheimer’s Research UK worked in policy and research for Age UK.