‘Breakthrough’ news presented at Alzheimer’s meet

Australian researchers have reportedly developed a drug to block amyloid (Abeta) build-up.

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By  Joanne Bladd Published  August 16, 2006

Australian researchers have reportedly developed a drug to block amyloid (Abeta) build-up. The once-a-day pill, PBT2, presented at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders in Madrid, has been shown in mice trials to prevent the build-up of the protein. Amyloid levels dropped by 60% within 24 hours of a single dose, and spatial memory improved within five days, delegates were told. Human clinical trials are due to start this month in Sweden, followed by a major international trial next year. The team behind the development, from the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria, believe the drug has the potential to delay the onset of disease, or slow its progression. They hope the drug could be on the market in four years. Lead researcher, Professor Ashley Bush, said: “This data is compelling and very exciting, because it shows that PBT2 not only may facilitate the clearance of Abeta from the brain, or prevent its production, but more importantly may improve cognition.” His colleague Professor George Fink, head of the Victoria Institute, described the research as a major breakthrough. “Though much depends on the next phase of human clinical trials, early results indicate this drug offers hope to people with Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. In separate news, US researchers presented a non-invasive eye test that could hold the key to diagnosing early dementia. The test, developed by a team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, uses a laser to scan the lens of the eye, to checks for deposits of beta-amyloid. A similar technique is currently used to test for hypertension. The procedure, the team reported, has proved successful in a small trial in mice. During the trial, a brief pulse of infrared light was directed into the eyes of four mice with Alzheimer’s and four without. The test accurately identified which had the condition. Currently, no simple test can accurately give a diagnosis of dementia. The condition can only be confirmed with certainty following a post-mortem examination. It is envisaged the laser test, which utilises quasi-elastic light scattering, could be used to detect the earliest stages of amyloid deposits in the lens. The test may also be a useful in tracking the progression of the disease and monitoring how patients respond to treatment. Dr Lee Goldstein, who led the research team, told delegates: “Amyloid in the lens can be detected using extremely sensitive, non-invasive optical techniques. “This makes the lens an ideal window for early detected and disease monitoring in Alzheimer’s.” Professor Clive Ballard, of The Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This exciting study uses a new imaging technique which has enormous potential as a relatively inexpensive and non-invasive way to chart the growth of amyloid. “But we are a long way from eye scans being used regularly to diagnose someone with dementia. More research is needed to show exactly how the amount of protein in the eye relates to development of dementia.”

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