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Alzheimer's drug that may slow condition hailed as 'glimmer of hope'

'The headway being made through research is starting to give a real sense of the possibility that we could one day stop dementia in its tracks'

Will Worley
Thursday 28 July 2016 11:13 BST
Scientists were encouraged by the findings
Scientists were encouraged by the findings (Getty Images)

A new drug appears to have slowed the deterioration of the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease for the first time, offering what one expert said were “glimmers of hope” for patients.

The substance, dubbed LMTX, showed signs it could improve cognition and delay brain shrinkage in some patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who were not taking any other medication.

The Alzheimer's Society said more research was needed as the study involved a relatively small number of people, but it added that it was starting to look like "we could one day stop dementia in its tracks".

LMTX failed to have any effect on people who were already on some sort of treatment for Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia. In the study, this was 85 per cent of the 891 patients who took part.

While a lack of effect on this scale officially indicates a failed experiment, a notable reduction in brain shrinkage was observed among the 82 patients who were only taking LMTX.

Scientists observed a 33 to 38 per cent reduction in brain shrinkage, depending on the dose.

And the cognition of patients, usually severely damaged by Alzheimer’s, was judged to have “significantly improved” after taking the drug for 15 months. Patients also reported an improvement in their ability to do everyday tasks.

The experiment was the first of its kind to test a drug which targets tau proteins in the brain. A symptom of Alzheimer’s is that these proteins become entangled, but LMTX interferes with this process.

Most previous Alzheimer’s treatments focused on targeting amyloid plaque: the build-up of proteins in the brain, which interferes with neurons.

The findings were revealed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2016.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “While it’s disappointing to see another large clinical trial for Alzheimer’s disease fail to meet its goal, there appears to have been some striking improvements for the subset of people who took the drug on its own.

“There are still lots of questions to answer before we know how promising this new treatment could be, [such as] why it doesn’t appear to work in those who are already taking other medications for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Only 82 people in the trial took LMTX on its own, so further trials will be needed before we will know whether it is the first drug to slow down the brain damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.

“After years of failure, we are now starting to see glimmers of hope for dementia drug trials. The headway being made through research is starting to give a real sense of the possibility that we could one day stop dementia in its tracks.”

Alzheimer’s disease can be severely distressing for those who suffer from it and their relatives. Its symptoms include forgetfulness, disorientation, speech difficulties, confusion, mobility issues, hallucinations and personality changes.

It affects around 46.8 million people worldwide, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

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