Chris Netherton, M.D.

Some good news in the battle against Alzheimer's

There have been three significant new developments over recent months which demonstrate that progress is being made in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s. This should give us all renewed hope for the future.

The latest figures on the worldwide growth of dementia are truly staggering. Alzheimer’s Disease International reports that, on average, someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are nearly 50 million people living with dementia and that this figure could rise to over 130 million by 2050. This will partly be fuelled by improved living standards in China, India and other parts of Asia, meaning that many more people will live on into old age.

An estimated

50 million

people live with dementia, worldwide.

The economic impact of this is huge. It is believed that the global economic cost of caring for dementia sufferers is already approaching a trillion dollars per annum. About 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with the disease.

So it was really exciting to hear that scientists at Cardiff University have successfully identified two genes which influence a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Their research also revealed a number of other genes and proteins that form a network that is likely to be important in the development of the disease. These discoveries could lead to the creation of new targeted drug treatments for the disease. This appears to be a real advance in understanding the many complex causes of Alzheimer’s.

The second piece of positive news was that research has shown that two ‘older’ drugs may have a new role to play in the battle against neurodegenerative diseases. The drugs were originally developed to treat depression and cancer. However, in clinical trials conducted with mice it was found that both of these drugs restored memory, reduced signs of neurodegeneration, and appeared to be safe in the doses that were given. It is believed that this will now lead on to human trials. Although it may be a long time before these drugs come to market, they could well offer new hope for dementia sufferers.

The third piece of news which caught my eye was a report by The Huffington Post on how Big Data analytics is being used in the fight against dementia. They rightly point out that a vast amount of patient data is now being generated from a wide range of sources, including Electronic Health Records. However, until recently the technology has not been available to analyse and make sense of all these complex data sets.

There is now an EU supported project underway, based at the University of Sheffield, which will allow huge volumes of data to be analysed by over 950 applications. This will include data from MRI scans, physiological information and patient histories. The goal is to discover new ways of screening for dementia risk before any symptoms appear. This would allow early treatment to take place which could preserve quality of life for the patient while also reducing the burden on the healthcare system.

From my perspective, it is really inspiring to know that the work that Microtest does in Electronic Health Records should one day help to provide the vital databases needed to help unravel the complicated, interwoven factors that lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s and help open up pathways to new treatments and even cures. It seems to me that we have only scratched the surface of what could be achieved in this area and it will have a bigger and bigger role to play in the future.

We should all be grateful for the inspired work that is being done by our scientists and specialists to help create new ways of treating Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It feels like some vital steps forward have been made.