Daily Express


Early warning helps sufferers beat disease

- By Giles Sheldrick

A NEW brain scan can spot Alzheimer’s 15 years before symptoms appear.

British scientists pioneering the technique say providing an early warning could prove crucial in beating the devastatin­g brain disease.

The process, currently being

tested at University College London, can locate and measure the proteins responsibl­e for Alzheimer’s.

Scientists already know that sticky clumps of these proteins – types known as amyloid and tau – begin to appear in the brain years before the dementia takes hold.

Researcher­s are now pioneering use of emission tomography (PET) scans, which use radioactiv­e tracers to search for the tell-tale clumps.

It could allow sufferers years of good mental health while new treatments are being developed and tested.

The early warning scan, coupled with “exciting” new drug trials, has led to fresh optimism that the incurable condition can be conquered.


Professor Nick Fox, of the Institute of Neurology at University College, said: “We think amyloid and tau build up for 10-15 years before we see the first signs of forgetfuln­ess. These things are gradually accumulati­ng under the surface. To all intents and purposes we are fine.

“There will be a time when we won’t have to wait until there is significan­t brain destructio­n.

“Provided we find a therapy – and I believe we will – it gives us a window of opportunit­y to act.”

Most Alzheimer’s research has concentrat­ed on the later stages of the disease.

But the race is now on to develop drugs that take effect before its effects are felt. Prof Fox added: ‘‘There will be a therapy that slows or delays the onset of Alzheimer’s. People could live with the disease without showing any symptoms.

“This is a disease that largely affects people in later life. Delaying onset by a few years will be the equivalent of preventing it, allowing people to spend their final years free of cognitive impairment.” The strides in understand­ing an illness expected to strike a million Britons by 2025 is explored in an episode of BBC Two’s Horizon tonight.

It reports “miracle” improvemen­ts in the condition of a patient after taking Aducanumab, a drug that reduces the build-up of amyloid.

Al Sandrock, chief medical officer at Biogen which manufactur­es the drug, said: “If we treat early enough, we may stave off Alzheimer’s disease completely and we may never have to worry about it again.”

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Picking up early signs of Alzheimer’s is a key goal.

“Future drug treatments will be most effective if taken before too much damage has taken place.

“If we are to realise the full potential of brain imaging, it is vital we see increased investment to support the research required.” Dr Clare Walton, of Alzheimer’s Society, added: “Developmen­t of treatments that slow the rate of memory loss will be a turning point in the way dementia is managed.

“Technologi­es that allow us to see the early signs are revolution­ising the way we research the condition.”

Horizon: Curing Alzheimer’s is on BBC Two at 8pm.

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