11:47pm Thursday 12 December 2019

Drugs being developed to tackle CJD could also help prevent Alzheimer’s

The antibodies, ICSM-18 and ICSM-35, were already known to play a crucial role in preventing ‘protein misfolding’, the main cause of CreutzfeldtJakob disease (CJD), the human form of mad cow disease. This discovery represents a significant step forward in the battle to develop drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease – a devastating neurodegenerative illness which affects more than 20 million people worldwide.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, has shown, using mice, that these antibodies can block damaging effects on brain tissue caused by a toxic substance called ‘amyloid beta’. Cumulatively, amyloid beta becomes attached to the surface of nerve cells in the brain, stopping them from communicating effectively and causing memory loss. The results showed that the antibodies stopped the amyloid beta proteins from taking hold and damaging the brain.

The study also confirms findings from a 2009 paper by Yale researchers which first indicated that prion proteins, the proteins which can change their shape and cause CJD, may be involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

Clinical trials to see whether drugs based on these antibodies can mitigate the damage caused to the human brain as a treatment for patients with CJD are due to begin in 2012.

The work was carried at the Medical Research Council Prion Unit at University College London, in collaboration with colleagues at the Laboratory for Neurodegeneration at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin.

Professor John Collinge, director of the MRC Prion Unit at University College London, who led the study, says:

With an ageing population and increasing numbers of families affected by Alzheimer’s disease, there is an urgent need for new drugs which will help to preserve brain function and prevent memory loss, the symptom which most characterises the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s. We’re thrilled that this discovery shows in mice that these two antibodies, which we are developing to treat CJD, may also have a role in treating more common forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. If these antibody drugs prove to be safe in use to treat CJD we will consider whether studies in Alzheimer’s disease should be carried out.”

Professor Dominic Walsh, co-corresponding author at University College Dublin, says:

“A unique aspect of this study is that we used amyloid beta extracted from human brain, the same material we believe is causing memory loss in patients with this devastating disease and we identified two antibodies that could block this effect. The use of these specific antibodies is particularly exciting since they have already undergone extensive pre-clinical testing for use in treating CJD. Thus a lot of basic work has already been done and could fast-track these antibodies for use in humans. The next step is further validation in other disease models of Alzheimer’s and then safety trials in humans.”



Notes to editors

Interaction between prion protein and toxic amyloid β assemblies can be therapeutically targeted at multiple sites will be published online today in Nature Communications

For media queries please contact:


Cathy Beveridge at the MRC press office on 07818 428 297 or email press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

Dominic Martella, Media Relations, University College Dublin, Ireland on +353 +1 716 1681, +353 +87 2959 118 or email dominic.martella@ucd.ie


University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland, was established in 1854 by John Henry Newman whose classic work The Idea of a University is one of the most enduring texts on the value of higher education and a source of inspiration for the University’s current educational philosophy. Today UCD is Ireland’s largest university with almost 25,000 students. The international standing of UCD has increased rapidly in recent years and the University is currently ranked within the top 100 in the Times Higher Education rankings. The university has established four major interdisciplinary research themes that match Ireland’s needs and current global challenges: Earth Sciences, Energy and the Environment; Health and Healthcare Delivery; Information, Computation and Communication; and Global Ireland. Perhaps the best known of all its graduates is the writer James Joyce, who completed his Bachelor of Arts at the university in 1902.



For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk


Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. UCL is the fourth-ranked university in the 2009 THES-QS World University Rankings. UCL alumni include Marie Stopes, Jonathan Dimbleby, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay. UCL currently has over 12,000 undergraduate and 8,000 postgraduate students. Its annual income is over £600 million. www.ucl.ac.uk

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