New hope for breakthrough Alzheimer’s treatment within 20 years after scientists uncover 92 genes that increase the risk of getting the disease
- The Cardiff professor hopes to have a range of treatments on offer by 2040
- Some drugs have already been cleared for use in other Alzheimer’s conditions
Alzheimer’s experts believe life-changing treatment for the most common form of the disease will be found within the next 20 years.
A team at Cardiff University has now identified 92 genes that significantly increase the risk of having Alzheimer’s, whereas just three genes were known when their research began in 2009.
Professor Julie Williams, the Cardiff Dementia Centre’s director, said: ‘By 2040 I think we’ll be in the position to offer a range of treatments and we might not know exactly why, but one of them will be able to act on the huge range of causes.’
Gene therapy and an improved understanding from international studies are contributing to experts’ increasing knowledge of the disease – one of the UK’s biggest killers of those over-50.
Professor Williams, who was awarded a CBE for her work, said: ‘Once you know where to start looking then you can study the effects which genes have on specific brain activity.
Alzheimer’s experts believe life-changing treatment for the most common form of the disease will be found within the next 20 years (stock image)
A team at Cardiff University has now identified 92 genes that significantly increase the risk of having Alzheimer’s (stock image)
She has studied Alzheimer’s for 30 years and said: ‘Things are speeding up and improving all the time. I’ve learnt more in the last seven years than I did in the previous 20.
‘Tests which cost millions in the 90s can be carried out for around £30.’
Development in research has meant experts discovered that microglia cells, known as ‘bin lorries of the brain’ are mistakenly killing off healthy brain cells, including synapses.
Synapses are connections between neurons and, if eliminated unnecessarily, can make a person lose connections which generate thought and memories.
But Professor Williams told the BBC her study of thousands of cases made her realise there will never be one smoking gun.
Instead, the disease must be considered more like heart disease where many factors contribute, and several therapies will help delay and prevent it.
Some drugs have already been cleared for use in other Alzheimer’s conditions and could be in use within five years.
Professor Tara Spires-Jones, a leading expert at the University of Edinburgh, told the Daily Mail last year that a drug to stop memory problems developing beyond initial mild confusion may be available within a decade.
Some drugs have already been cleared for use in other Alzheimer’s conditions and could be in use within five years (stock image)
She said: ‘I am wary of using the word cure, which is a very strong word, but I think we will have a disease-modifying drug within 10 years.
‘That is a drug which can stop Alzheimer’s disease in its tracks, or even – although this is less likely – reverse it once it has started.
‘I know all these decades of research can seem disheartening, when there is still no drug for Alzheimer’s, but game-changing, miracle drugs have been found for other brain diseases, and one is coming for this one.’
Professor Spires-Jones said neuroscience has recently had some big wins, including the discovery of Zolgensma, which is helping children with severe spinal muscular atrophy crawl and walk for the first time.
The expert is particularly excited by research on the ‘Sigma-2 receptor’, which is found on brain cells, and appears to attract clumps of a protein called amyloid beta, which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Early research, although only 19 people, suggests a drug blocking this process could prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s.
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