AUSTRALIANS will be among the first to test new drugs hoped to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Austin Hospital’s director of nuclear medicine Professor Chris Rowe said people aged over 60 could trial drugs that could prevent the build-up of proteins in the brain believed to cause the disease.
Trials on participants whose scans show early signs of dementia are likely to begin in Melbourne this year.
Research by Professor Rowe and his colleagues has allowed doctors to model the development of the disease before it becomes detectable.
That has paved the way for preventative drugs that would act like anti-cholesterol or blood pressure drugs that help prevent heart disease.
Professor Rowe said, although autopsy studies suggested the build-up of this destructive protein amyloid beta occurred over years, his study was the first to use brain scans on a large group of people to show Alzheimer’s disease was a 30-year process. “If someone develops dementia at 75, our study shows the amyloid, which is thought to be the cause of the disease, started building up at 45 and by the age of 60 there was enough to detect it with an amyloid PET scan. Then at 70 – about five years before dementia – the patient would notice their memory beginning to fail and if you did an MRI scan at that time, you would start to see shrinkage of the brain. Over the last five years there would be rapid decline of memory and worsening brain shrinkage to the point where they develop dementia.”
Professor Rowe said if the drugs, which are showing positive results in animal studies, could clear the amyloid beta or adjust the production of it in people’s brains, they could prevent dementia.
People interested in the study can call the Austin Hospital.