21 December 2006
An antibody with the potential to block production of the brain chemical linked to Alzheimer’s disease has been developed by Cardiff University researchers.
There is no known cure or preventative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects one in 20 people over the age of 65 and one in five over the age of 80 in the UK and more than 12 million people worldwide. The disease causes a distressing, irreversible and progressive loss of brain function and memory.
The Cardiff team led by Dr Emma Kidd at the University’s Welsh School of Pharmacy made the discovery during research funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading care and research charity for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
The results of the study show that it is possible to decrease production of a small protein called β-amyloid (Aβ), which is believed to be the main cause of the disease. Deposits of Aβ build up in the brain, preventing it from functioning properly.
The team has developed an antibody which binds to a naturally occurring protein in the brain, amyloid precursor protein (APP), preventing the production of Aβ. The antibody blocks the access to APP of an enzyme, b-secretase, crucial for the formation of Ab.
Dr Kidd said: “Our results are highly encouraging at this stage. We believe that our approach could lead in time to a new therapy for this distressing and debilitating disease as it should prevent or reduce the irreversible deterioration of a patient’s memory and other brain functions. This would also reduce the burden on carers, usually family members, who look after patients in the earlier stages of the disease.”
“We also believe it is possible that our antibody could be used as a preventative treatment to protect people at high risk of Alzheimer’s Disease through their family history or other factors.”
The work funded by the Alzheimer’s Society research programme, Quality Research In Dementia was conducted on cultured cells in the laboratory. The team believes that a form of the antibody could be used as a treatment to reduce Aβ build-up in the brain, improving the patient’s memory and quality of life. Any development of the antibody as a drug will take several years and the team are in the process of seeking funding for the next stage of development of the antibody.
The charity’s Quality Research in Dementia programme is led and steered by carers and people with dementia, who set the priorities. This ensures that funding only goes to projects with a potential for high impact on the lives of people with dementia and their carers.
Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said: “We are thrilled to have been able to fund this innovative work. As a charity we rely on donations from the public and we hope people will understand how important it is to invest more in research into all types of dementia so that we eventually may have a selection of new treatments to change the lives of people with dementia and their carers.”
The research is published today in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.