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Published on: July 18, 2014
by Sarah Knapton for The Telegraph:
A drug which is commonly used to treat arthritis may be the first medication found which can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists at the University of Southampton discovered that Etranercept, which is usually given as a weekly injection to relieve arthritis symptoms, stopped dementia getting worse.
Although only 41 people took part in the pilot study, researchers are hopeful that larger clinical trials would show the same result.
Professor Clive Holmes, who led the research, and who presented his results yesterday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagan, said: “Our results are better than we expected. “We saw exactly what we hoped we would and no one has shown these effects before. The results are very consistent.”
The participants were given either injections of the drug or a placebo of saltwater every week for six months. They were then assessed for memory function, ability to carry out day-to-day tasks and behaviour.
Results showed that those who were given Etanercept did not get any worse during the six month follow up period compared with those on the placebo, who did decline.
Etanercept works by soaking up and disposing of a protein in the blood called TNF-alpha which is released by blood cells as part on the body’s inflammatory response.
Professor Holmes’ group has already shown that people with Alzheimer’s that have high levels of active protein in their blood decline quicker than those who have very low levels.
“A large number of anti-inflammatory approaches have been tried in patients with established Alzheimer’s, but with little evidence of efficacy,” Prof Holmes added.
“We have shown that a targeted approach against (the protein) offers protection against the development of the disease. Our study was small and lasted for six months so it needs to be developed further, however our projections suggest that the benefits would continue. This now needs to be tested.”
Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect 820,000 people in the UK.
Around 23 million of the UK population have a close friend or family member with dementia. As well as the huge personal cost, dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, more than cancer and heart disease combined.
The discovery was welcomed by dementia charities
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, says: “After many years of research into the role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s, led by the team in Southampton, it’s promising to see a compound targeting this process showing encouraging early results in people.
“While we still await the full report of the findings, Etanercept, a drug already recommended for use in arthritis, appeared to be well tolerated by the Alzheimer’s patients enrolled into the trial.
“However, we know that clinical trials have a high failure rate and so we need to see Etanercept tested further in larger and longer trials in Alzheimer’s disease.”
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