Manchester team tackles immune system in search for new dementia treatments

Posted on 15th March 2017

Day 2: Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2017, Aberdeen

Dementia drug discovery efforts are underway at the University of Manchester, thanks to funding from a collaboration of leading charities and pharmaceutical companies. Working with drug development experts at MRC Technology, the team is targeting the immune system in a bid to halt nerve cell damage in Alzheimer’s disease. The announcement comes as the team led by Dr David Brough attends the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2017 in Aberdeen on 14-15 March.

Dementia is one of the greatest medical challenges of our time. With 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK but no treatments yet able to slow the progression of the diseases that cause it, there is an urgent need for more research into new medicines. The Dementia Consortium is an initiative set up to rise to this challenge, forming a global partnership between Alzheimer’s Research UK, MRC Technology and the pharmaceutical companies Abbvie, Astex, Eisai, Lilly and MSD. By uniting expertise, the Consortium is bridging the gap between academic research and the pharmaceutical industry in the search for new treatments for dementia.

In the fifth project supported by the Dementia Consortium, Manchester-based researcher, Dr David Brough will look to alter inflammatory processes as a means to reduce the spread of nerve cell damage in Alzheimer’s disease. Normally, the immune system serves to protect our bodies from damage, however in Alzheimer’s, it can go awry and trigger damage to nerve cells.

When the immune system kicks into action, it triggers proteins to form a type of biological machine called an inflammasome. In this new project, Dr Brough is developing compounds to target a particular component of inflammasomes called NLRP3, which is thought to misbehave in Alzheimer’s disease. Targeting NLRP3 should dampen down inflammation triggered by the inflammasome, reducing damage occurring to nerve cells in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

Drug discovery projects such as this start with a list of potential drugs that are then whittled down to the most promising one. In these important early steps in the drug development process, Dr Brough is working with experts at MRC Technology to modify and refine these compounds. If successful, these potential new treatments will need to be studied in clinical trials to ensure they can provide life-changing effects for people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr David Brough said:

“It is fantastic to be in Aberdeen to meet with dementia experts to discuss our work and hear about progress being made in the field. I have always been intrigued by the immune system – it is one of the most complicated systems in our bodies, and combined with our most complex organ, the brain, creates the ultimate enigma for scientists to crack. By shifting our focus to understanding how the immune system goes astray in Alzheimer’s, my team has identified a potential way to bring this system back on track and halt the damage being triggered in the brain. The support of the Dementia Consortium is pivotal in allowing us to translate our findings so that they may provide real benefit to all those whose lives are touched by Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“There are 850,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK, and with this number set to grow to over a million people by 2025, we urgently need new treatments for the condition. Dementia is perhaps our greatest medical challenge and it requires a concerted response in order to tackle it effectively. The Dementia Consortium brings together expertise and enthusiasm from partners across charity and industry to support talented scientists like David Brough. We are pleased to be working with him on this innovative project and to welcome him to this week’s conference in Aberdeen.”

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