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Published on: November 6, 2014
by Sarah Knapton for The Telegraph:
A weekly injection which could prevent Alzheimer’s disease may be possible after scientists discovered how to get drugs into brain.
Treating neurological disorders like dementia has always proved difficult because the brain has a network of blood vessels – known as the blood-brain barrier – which stop all but vital nutrients getting inside.
However for the first time, scientists have discovered how to attach antibodies to a special protein called ‘transferrin’, which exists in the body to help transport materials through the blood-brain barrier.
Once inside the brain, the antibodies block the build-up of toxic amyloid beta plaques which stop the neurons from firing and cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Tests on monkeys showed that a single injection of the antibody could prevent the build-up of the plaque without any side effects for up to a week, while an intravenous transfusion could last a month. The team now plans to move on to human trials.
“The blood-brain barrier (BBB) remains a formidable obstacle for developing therapeutics to treat neurological disease, particularly for large molecules such as antibodies,” said lead author Joy Yu of biotechnology company Genetech Inc, in San Francisco.
“If this technique proves successful in humans, patients could receive weekly subcutaneous or monthly intravenous injections to keep neurological diseases at bay.”
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting half a million people in the UK, but current drugs aren’t able to affect the course of the disease
The breakthrough was welcomed by scientists and charities.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The blood-brain barrier acts as a protective layer by stopping some things from passing into the brain from the blood.
“However, this protection can cause problems for scientists developing drugs for the treatment of neurological diseases, including dementia.
“These researchers have investigated attaching a potential treatment to a molecule that can pass through the barrier, therefore using this as a sort of passport into the brain. Showing that this works in primates is one step closer to using this technology for treatments in people.”
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, added: “A key challenge in Alzheimer’s drug development is ensuring that antibody treatments can be delivered to the brain in order to have an effect.
“This US study in primates highlights a method for increasing the penetration of antibody into the brain to reduce amyloid-beta production.
“Further research should investigate whether this method would be safe and effective for people.”
The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine,
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