Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, which affects 750,000 people in the UK, with numbers expected to more than double by 2050. One in three people over 65 will die with dementia.
Professor David Allsop and his team at the Centre for Ageing Research, School of Health and Medicine, at Lancaster are part of a multi-million pound international research project which aims to find a cure.
He said: “When the disease is diagnosed now, the damage is already done. Proteins accumulate in the brain as senile plaques or fibres which interfere with the normal function of nerve cells. We are developing treatments based on inhibiting the protein fibres from accumulating so Alzheimer’s could be treated much earlier. A drug to prevent Alzheimer’s could be tested in humans in 5 to 6 years.”
Lancaster University has funding of almost half a million euros as part of the €14.6 million European Union project called ‘Nanoparticles for the therapy and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease’.
The NAD Project brings together leading research scientists from 18 other research centres in Europe.
The aim is to create very small nanoparticles which are able to cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain and destroy the amyloid plaques which accumulate in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Allsop is also working on a method of diagnosing Alzheimer’s before there are any symptoms of memory loss. He said: “Laboratory research is very promising and if the expectations of the research are realized, the results can be expected to have an enormous impact on the early diagnosis and treatment of this highly distressing disease.”
The Levels of amyloid beta molecules are found at higher levels in the blood and spinal fluid of Alzheimer’s sufferers, even when they appear well. Amyloid beta is a form of a protein which clumps together in plaques, killing nerves in the brain and leading to the symptoms of memory loss and confusion typical of the disease.
New equipment, funded with £35,000 from Alzheimer’s Research UK, will enable the detection of tiny amounts of this molecule alongside other markers of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.
Research at Lancaster University aims to develop improved methods for the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions and is currently supported by further funding from the EU (Framework 7), The Medical Research Council, The George Barton Trust, and The Fisher Foundation. Total research funding at Lancaster in this area now exceeds £1 million.