Page 12-13 - NeuRA 2013 in Review

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No drug has proven effective at slowing or halting
Alzheimer’s disease. Is this because people have been
trying to intervene when it is already too late?
In a critical research paper that sent waves of excitement around the
world, NeuRA researchers and their international collaborators discovered
that changes in spinal fluid and the brain can be observed up to 25 years
before people with a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease show
clinical signs of this devastating disease.
The study is an international collaboration called the Dominantly
Inherited Alzheimer Network, or DIAN. As part of this network, NeuRA
and other study sites around the world are monitoring people who have
a parent with one of the rare genetic mutations that cause Alzheimer’s
disease in middle age, usually between 30 and 60. These people have a
50% chance of having inherited the gene from their affected parent.
This network is the first chance we have had to look for changes
related to Alzheimer’s disease in living people who we know will develop
the disease, with their brothers and sisters without the gene providing an
ideal comparison group. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease
and available treatments target symptoms only. By looking at changes
in people before they show memory loss, the hope is to develop more
targeted treatments and identify the best window in which we may be able
to prevent this disease altogether.
The landmark paper published in the
New England Journal of
Medicine
in 2012 identified a number of major milestones in the way
Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
Around 20-25 years before Alzheimer’s disease symptoms are
expected, levels of a protein called beta amyloid decline in cerebrospinal
fluid. And 10-15 years before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,
accumulations of the beta amyloid protein is detected by imaging the
brain and nerve cells begin to deteriorate. Patients start to experience
memory problems five years later, and show the range of symptoms
needed to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease just three years after that.
If you cannot measure the changes caused by a disease, how can you
begin treating the disease, let alone cure it? Trying to alter the disease
process before it takes hold is the best hope we have of winning the fight
against this devastating disease.
Excitingly, using the biomarkers discovered through DIAN, clinical
trials of new preventative medicines have now begun in the lead DIAN
site in the USA. We hope they will be extended to the international
DIAN sites including NeuRA within the next year.
Your Memory | 11
Below:
Staircase in the new
building provides a colourful feature.
Opposite:
(top) Prof Peter Schofield in the new laboratories;
(middle) architectural feature in the new building reflects
NeuRA’s vision; (bottom) DIAN study participant
Chontell Johnson and study clinician Dr Bill Brooks.